By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian authorities’ human rights record has come under strong attack from one of the world’s most respected watchdogs, Human Rights Watch. In its annual review of human rights practices around the globe, the New York-based group singled out continuing police brutality, mistreatment of army conscripts and persecution of non-traditional religious groups in Armenia.
“The government did little to improve on human rights practices, as torture, abuse in the army, and persecution of religious minorities continued, and growing poverty, combined with corruption, also led to rights abuses,” Human Rights Watch said.
The report covering the period from November 2000 through November 2001 also charged that “the willingness of judges to admit coerced evidence abetted the routine police practice of extracting confessions through beatings and other forms of torture.” It condemned “widespread torture, beatings, and noncombat fatalities of soldiers in the army,” accusing military investigators of covering up many such crimes.
Human Rights Watch also renewed its criticism of the authorities’ handling of the September violent death of a man in a Yerevan café, widely blamed on President Robert Kocharian’s security service. “An egregious case in September demonstrated the impunity security officials apparently enjoyed in cases of physical abuse,” it said.
The watchdog also criticized the Council of Europe, which accepted Armenia into its ranks one year ago, for what it said is insufficient monitoring of Yerevan’s observance of the membership obligations. It alleged that the authorities “flouted” a Council of Europe requirement to ensure religious freedom by continuing to arrest, detain, and imprison members of the Jehovah's Witnesses cult for their refusal to serve in the military.
Still, the report did mention the fact that a fact-finding mission from the Strasbourg-based pan-European body concluded last year that there are no political prisoners in Armenia. It also noted the absence of “reported cases of harassment of human rights defenders in 2001.”
Human Rights Watch further pointed to widespread poverty and rampant corruption in Armenia. “The government announced an anticorruption drive, yet corruption investigations remained highly selective and often appeared to be politically motivated,” its report said, citing the criminal case against Ashot Bleyan, the former minister of education and a bitter critic of the Kocharian administration.