By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian authorities should improve their human rights record and continue political reforms if they are to receive additional multimillion-dollar assistance from the United States under its new global poverty reduction program, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Tuesday.
Ambassador Carlos Pascual, a senior State Department official coordinating U.S. aid to Europe and the former Soviet Union, emphasized that respect of “political freedom” is among the criteria for the selection of 16 countries eligible for Washington’s Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program. He indicated in this regard U.S. concern at the Armenian government’s heavy-handed response to the two-month opposition campaign for President Robert Kocharian’s resignation.
“As you know, there have been issues here in Armenia that have raised questions about political and civil liberties in the past few months,” Pascual told a news conference in Yerevan. “The expectation, in order to be able to move forward with the program, is that there would be progress on these issues and not movement backwards.”
“So we will continue to review carefully the development of political events in the coming months and these will also be taken into account along with the specific elements of any individual [aid] proposal that is developed by the Armenian side,” he added.
Armenia is among 16 low-income countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the former Soviet Union selected for the MCA earlier this month on the basis of 16 indicators of political and economic reforms. Six of those indicators, including protection of civil rights and freedom of expression, deal with what is defined as one of the three main objectives of the scheme: promotion of a “just government rule.”
“Experience has shown us that the way a government treats its people and the environment that is created for political participation is intricately connected with economic success,” Pascual argued. He noted that while Armenia ranks high in the MCA indicators of economic reform and market liberalization, its government’s record on “political rights and civil liberties” leaves much to be desired.
This conclusion is in line with the findings of the latest State Department report on U.S. efforts to promote human rights and democracy around the world over the past year. “The [Armenian] Government's human rights record remained poor; although there were some improvements in a few areas, serious problems remained,” reads the report released on Monday. It points among other things to “numerous serious irregularities” in last year’s Armenian presidential election as well as continuing reports of arbitrary arrests.
The report covers events before the recent government crackdown on the Armenian opposition that was criticized by the U.S., the Council of Europe and other Western human rights watchdogs. Despite the criticism, Washington stressed its neutrality in the continuing confrontation between Kocharian and his political opponents.
Pascual, who co-chaired a two-day session of the U.S.-Armenian intergovernmental “task force” with Finance Minister Vartan Khachatrian, also said that Yerevan would further increase its chances of securing MCA funding by combating endemic corruption in earnest. “We had some very frank discussions about struggle to fight corruption in Armenia and the importance of translating the [government’s] anti-corruption strategy into specific steps,” he said, calling for “concrete examples that can show the population the seriousness of the will to fight corruption.”
Khachatrian agreed, saying: “We must do a lot of work to get that assistance.” He confirmed that the Armenian government has “in effect” already drawn up a number of specific aid programs that will be submitted to the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. government agency in charge of the MCA’s implementation. He said those programs will be discussed in detail with a team of other U.S. officials who are due to visit Yerevan later this month. The government will also initiate public debate on its proposals, Khachatrian added.
One of Khachatrian’s deputies, David Avetisian, told RFE/RL on Monday that Yerevan will ask for at least $60 million worth of additional U.S. assistance this year.
The task force also discussed the ongoing regular U.S. aid to Armenia which has exceeded $1.5 billion since 1992 and, according to Pascual, will total $94 million this year. More than half of the 2004 funds are to be spent on job creation, poverty reduction and social services, while $15 million is earmarked for “security and law enforcement,” officials said.
(Photolur photo: Carlos Pascual.)