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Human Rights Committee reviews civil and political rights in Armenia

26 October 1998

26 October 1998

The Human Rights Committee this morning started its consideration of an initial report presented by the Government of Armenia on the country’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Ashot Melik-Shahnazarian, Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia and Head of the delegation, introduced the report, saying that Armenians had an acute sense of justice and naturally adhered to the principles of human rights. They were a people who had been persecuted in the past. Their numbers had decreased and they had dispersed as a result of offenses carried out against them, he said.

Members of the Committee raised questions on such issues as maltreatment of individuals by police and the army; the implementation of the provisions of international human rights instruments in Nagorny-Karabakh; and registration of religious groups.

The delegation of Armenia also included Karen Nazarian, Permanent Representative of Armenia to the United Nations Office at Geneva; Arpine Gevorgian, Third Secretary of the Permanent Mission of Armenia at Geneva; and Aline Dedeyan, Expert at the Mission.

As one of 140 States parties to the International Covenant, Armenia is obligated to submit periodic reports to the Committee on efforts by the Government to put into effect the provisions of the instrument.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m., it will conclude its consideration of the report of Armenia and issue its preliminary observations.

Report of Armenia

The initial report of Armenia (document CCPR/C/92/Add.2) reviews the implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on an article-by-article basis. The report says that Armenia has no special institution for the defence of the rights of women. However, many Government and non-governmental institutions concern themselves with women's rights and problems. Although there are no laws, regulations or policies that discriminate against women, females are not sufficiently involved in public life, although most of them have received a higher education.

The report says that Armenia's Constitution in the Soviet period never reflected the first and most important human right, the right to life. Since Armenia proclaimed its independence in 1990, not a single execution has been recorded within the territory of the Republic. There exists no legal mechanism for carrying out the death penalty.

In addition, the report affirms that all war propaganda is prohibited; that the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is guaranteed; that freedom from arbitrary interference with privacy, home or correspondence is also ensured constitutionally; and that the right to peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of association and the right to take part in public affairs, to vote and to be elected, and to have access to public service are also guaranteed.

Introduction of Report

KAREN NAZARIAN, Permanent Representative of Armenia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, introducing the report, said that he was looking forward to a constructive dialogue with the members of the Committee and hoped that the session would provide a unique opportunity for a open exchange of views. This would enable the Government of Armenia to examine carefully the comments and observations made by the members of the Committee for their further reflection in the policy of the protection and promotion of human rights, in particular the respect and implementation of civil and political rights in Armenia.

ASHOT MELIK-SHAHNAZARIAN, Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, also introducing the report, said that Armenians had an acute sense of justice and naturally adhered to the principles of human rights. They were a people who had been persecuted in the past. Their numbers had decreased and they had dispersed as a result of offenses committed against them.

Mr. Melik-Shahnazarian further said that since Armenia had become an independent State, the construction of a democratic society had never seized in order to provide better living conditions for the people. The old Soviet laws were replaced with new legislative and administrative orders with the aim of meeting national and international obligations, he added.

Normal democratic development guaranteed human rights, Mr. Melik-Shahnazarian stressed, adding that Armenia was one of the first independent States of the former Soviet Union to accede to international human right instruments. At present, there were 69 political parties operating freely and there were no political detainees in the country to the extent that the non-governmental organization that defended the cause of political prisoners had dissolved itself and ceased its activities.

Furthermore, the Government had established a Human Rights Department and a National Human Rights Commission headed by a renown Soviet era dissident, Mr. Melik-Shahnazarian went on to say. The Commission, among other things, had the duty of preparing documents for the Ombudsman of Armenia. The Government also planned to complete its codification process by the end of the year so that the laws could enter into force by January of next year, he added.

Discussion of Report

In response to written questions prepared by Committee members in advance, the delegation said that in a state of emergency, the powers and duties of the internal monitoring services of the ministries exercising power were not subject to any restrictions whatsoever. The laws designed to govern the activities of criminal investigation services, the police and the courts, as well as a number of laws which would operate in a state of emergency were in the drafting stage. Their enactment ad practical implementation would enable the Government to carry out in full its obligations assumed under article 4 of the Covenant.

Armenia had legalized the death penalty as an exceptional punishment, the delegation said, adding that it intended to abolish it completely in the future. This abolition might occur in the next few years, once the necessary legal, technical and financial preconditions had been met. Since the independence of Armenia, not a single execution had been carried out, added the delegation.

The delegation said that the country's Constitution provided that everyone was entitled to freedom and security of person and that no one might be arrested or searched other than in the manner prescribed by the law. A person might be detained only by order of the court and in accordance with established procedure.

Public organizations could be established, the delegation said, adding that there were more than 1,000 registered organizations, including a number of trade unions. The forming and joining of trade unions by workers was not subject to any restrictions.

On the role of the National Human Rights Commission, the delegation said that it played an advisory role to the President of the Republic. It was also instrumental in the promotion and protection of human rights through its drafting of legislative initiations to be submitted to the competent organs of the Government. In addition, the Commission organized conferences and seminars aimed at educating members of the Government’s law enforcing bodies and disseminating the contents of the various international human rights instruments.

A question was asked on the prohibition of torture to which the delegation said that the Constitution provided that no one might be subjected to torture or to treatment and punishment that were cruel or degrading to the individual's dignity; and no one might be subjected to medical or scientific experiments without his or her consent. Furthermore, the Criminal Code established criminal liability for the use of threats or other unlawful acts by a person conducting an investigation or preliminary inquiry with a view to eliciting evidence in the course of investigation.

In response to the question of pre-trial detentions, the delegation said that the law required that the arresting official should, within no more than 24 hours, inform the prosecutor who, in turn, should within 48 hours authorize the suspect's pre-trial detention or order his or her release. Pre-trial detention was generally chosen in the case of crimes punishable by deprivation of freedom for a period of more than one year.

In additional oral questions, several members of the Committee wanted to know about the measures, if any, undertaken by the Government to tackle human rights violations committed by law enforcing agents either in the process of arresting a suspect or in the course of pre-trial detention. Did the Government increase its vigilance by establishing monitoring mechanisms in places of detention and prisons? The process of drafting persons into the army had resulted, in some cases, in violence. Did the Government attempt to improve maltreatment of individuals by army officers?

Furthermore, one expert asked who was internationally responsible for the respect of human rights in the Nagonry-Karabakh region. Was it Armenia or Azerbaijan which overlooked the implementation ofinternational human rights instruments in that area?

In response, the delegation said that the country's media was free and all electronic and printed papers were not restricted from expressing their opinion. Since state secrecy was not defined by the Government, the media was free to select issues for publication at its own will.