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By Heghine Buniatian in Prague
Armenia needs a more dedicated reform action to deal with the consequences of its worst political crisis, according to a representative of a leading US human rights organization.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL, Christopher Walker, who is director of studies at New York-based Freedom House, said the Armenian government’s steps in the aftermath of the political upheaval in March so far “have been only partial.”

Walker, whose department has closely followed and published annual reports on the state of human rights protection and democracy in different countries of the world, finds it a greater concern that in recent years Armenia’s authorities “have not advanced meaningful reforms” to ensure a change in the fundamentals.

“We haven’t seen the sort of meaningful, durable and dedicated reform efforts that one should look for in Armenia,” the expert said.

Speaking about specific areas, Walker said: “Clearly there are a considerable number of areas where reforms are needed. Some of the areas that the Council of Europe has emphasized in the aftermath of the March events included freedom of assembly. There have been partial steps there. There have also been some steps in forming a body to review the events of March, which I think have been looked at with cautious optimism...”

According to Walker, the economic sphere is a separate area of concern in Armenia.

“Despite Armenia’s economic growth over the last few years, much of the strategic parts of the economy are held by a fairly small number of senior political officials, and this is something of an enormous concern, because political freedom will be propelled by economic freedom, they go hand in hand. In Armenia there is a very mixed record on this,” the Freedom House expert said.

Another area that requires reform, according to the expert, is freedom of speech.

“By our evaluations Armenia is not the worst performer in the non-Baltic former Soviet Union, but the record still leaves a lot to be desired in a number of respects.

“What we would look for is a true opening and true enabling of the media environment to be accessible at a national level to a wide range of voices on a consistent basis. And I don’t think that’s the case. I think there is a possibility [in Armenia] for voices to participate to a degree, but we would look for a much higher standard, and I don’t think this is an unreasonable expectation,” Walker concluded.
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