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Armenia: UN expert urges Government to address ongoing obstacles faced by human rights defenders

YEREVAN (18 June 2010) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, urged the Armenian authorities to publicly acknowledge the role and importance of human rights defenders, and to address the ongoing obstacles faced by them in the country.

The Special Rapporteur welcomed Armenia’s commitment to promoting respect for human rights, as demonstrated by its ratification of a wide number of international human rights instruments, and acknowledged the challenges faced by the Government of Armenia and its law enforcement officials.

“I am worried by documented cases of ongoing violence, assaults, intimidation, harassment and stigmatization of defenders, in particular journalists,” the UN independent expert said at the end of a five-day fact-finding mission to Armenia*, which was the first visit to the country by a UN Human Rights envoy since 2000.

Ms. Sekaggya noted that “these cases would seem to illustrate an apparent culture of impunity in Armenia which impinges upon the work of human rights defenders. This impunity appears to be closely related to the deep-rooted problems within the police system as well as with the shortcomings of the justice system.”

The human rights expert urged the authorities “to undertake prompt, thorough and transparent investigations of all human rights violations, in particular attacks against journalists, in order to create a safe and enabling environment in which human rights defenders can carry out their activities.”

“I would like to reiterate a request I made to the Prime Minister during my meeting with him asking him to publicly acknowledge the role and importance of human rights defenders in achieving a flourishing, pluralistic and democratic society,” she said.

The UN Human Rights Council envoy also drew attention to “the significant constraints imposed on the exercise of freedom of assembly in Armenia,” noting that “in a democratic society, the right to hold peaceful, open and public demonstrations, including indoor assemblies, should be available to all individuals without undue restrictions.”

“I also add my voice to those who have already expressed serious concerns about the amendments to the Law on Television and Radio. If signed into law by the President of Armenia, these amendments will further restrict and seriously hamper the plurality of voices and opinions available to Armenian society,” Ms. Sekaggya stressed.

In this context, Ms. Sekaggya recommended the Government “to implement a comprehensive programme of reform within the police service, to immediately take steps to address the shortcomings of the justice system.” In her view, “this should be carried out in conjunction with the implementation of an extensive anti-corruption strategy in order to ensure accountability within government structures.”

The UN independent expert emphasized the need to fully consult, include and incorporate the views of civil society and human rights defenders in decision-making processes; as well as addressing the specific needs of human rights defenders, including women defenders and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) defenders within the National Action Plan on Human Rights.

The Special Rapporteur will present her report to the United Nations Human Rights Council at its sixteenth session in March 2011, and will make further recommendations for the consideration of the Government and other stakeholders.

Margaret Sekaggya, a lawyer from Uganda, was appointed Special Rapporteur in March 2008 by the UN Human Rights Council. She is independent from any Government and serves in her individual capacity.

(*) Read the full statement by the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10168&LangID=E

OHCHR Country Page – Armenia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/AMIndex.aspx