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Council Of Europe Body Urges ‘Public Inquiry’ Into Armenia Unrest


Mauro Palma, president of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture during a press conference, undated.

Mauro Palma, president of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture during a press conference, undated.

A key Council of Europe watchdog on Friday called for a “public inquiry” into the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan and expressed concern about reported ill-treatment of dozens of opposition members arrested by the Armenian authorities at the time.


In an extensive report, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) said the authorities must finally “make it clear to all law enforcement staff that the ill-treatment of persons in their custody is illegal and will be dealt with severely in the form of criminal prosecution.”

The report details the findings of a CPT team that visited Armenia in the aftermath of the March 2008 deadly clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition protesters. It is not clear why the Strasbourg-based body has taken two years to publish it.

CPT officials interviewed some 70 supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian that were kept in detention at the time. Virtually all of them claimed to have been ill-treated during arrest.

“The delegation received a few allegations of physical ill-treatment at the time of questioning by the police,” says the report. “The ill-treatment was described to have consisted essentially of slaps, punches, kicks and truncheon blows, and was apparently inflicted with the purpose of obtaining confessions … or information implicating other persons.” It says some of those detainees bore “physical marks or conditions consistent with their allegations.”

“As regards the period spent in prison establishments after being remanded into custody, no complaints of physical ill-treatment were made by any of the persons interviewed,” adds the report. It says persons detained “at home or at work” also did not allege torture.

In a written response to the report also released by the CPT on Friday, the Armenian government effectively dismissed the torture allegations. “The police haven’t received any application on actions of torture, beating or degrading dignity by police officers from the detained persons, their lawyers or legal representatives in relation to the post-election events during the eight months of 2008,” it said.

Armenia -- Soldiers patrol streets of Yerevan on March 2, 2008.
The CPT insisted, however, that the authorities in Yerevan have yet to honor their past pledges to tackle police brutality, which has long been considered the most frequent form of human rights violation in Armenia. “It became clear during the March 2008 visit that … the situation still leaves a great deal to be desired,” it said.

The CPT also seemingly called into question the credibility of the official criminal investigation into what the authorities claim was an opposition attempt to seize power following the disputed presidential election of February 2008. It said the investigation, which is supposedly continuing, must clarify “whether the use of force by the police was legitimate, unavoidable and proportionate to the degree of danger posed by the demonstrators.”

The authorities should also explain “how and why the persons who died were killed and others seriously wounded.” This question remains unanswered, with nobody having been prosecuted yet in connection with the deaths of eight protesters and two security personnel during the March 2008 clashes.

The Armenian government said in that regard: “The results of examination of the events of 1st March and the legal value of the event can be given only after the completion of the criminal proceedings on those events.” It also provided detailed information about tear gas, rubber bullets and other “special means” used against thousands of people that barricaded themselves in central Yerevan on that day.

The CPT went on to stress the need for “public scrutiny of the investigation or its results.” “Given the seriousness of the events of 1 March 2008, a public inquiry would be appropriate,” it says.

The Council of Europe and other international bodies have repeatedly urged the authorities to ensure an independent probe of the worst street violence in the country’s history. Acting on those calls, President Serzh Sarkisian set up in late 2008 a special body in which his governing coalition and the Armenian opposition were given equal representation. The body was disbanded last June following mounting tensions between its pro-government and pro-opposition members.

Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) has since been pushing for the launch of a new bipartisan probe that would also involve international experts. The authorities have resisted these demands so far.

The Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) discussed this and other issues relating to the political situation in Armenia at a meeting in Paris on Wednesday. The meeting focused a reform of the country’s electoral legislation as well as judicial and law-enforcement systems promised by the Yerevan government.

David Harutiunian, the head of Armenia's parliamentary delegation to PACE, told RFE/RL after the meeting that the pledged reforms should make the new electoral system functional before the next parliamentary elections, due in 2012.

"The concept of how to file a lawsuit or protest in court the actions of police or law enforcement agencies has already been presented to the Council of Europe for evaluation," Harutiunian said. "We expect [within] one month to get the answer after which we can start legislative work."

Armenia -- Opposotion march. 16 March, 2010
The PACE meeting followed a demonstration on March 16 in which thousands of opposition supporters marched to the Council of Europe office in Yerevan. The protesters wanted PACE to push for snap elections in Armenia and for other government measures that are being sought by the HAK. The opposition alliance has dismissed as meaningless the mainly legislative changes promised by the Sarkisian administration.

The HAK’s special representative to the Council of Europe, Arman Grigorian, complained on Friday that the Monitoring Committee is not paying sufficient attention to the fate of more than a dozen oppositionists remaining in jail. “Everyone seems to agree that their trials were marred by numerous irregularities,” he told RFE/RL. “But the only conclusion they [the Europeans] draw is there has to be a judicial reform that would prevent such abuses.

“But they must also draw a second conclusion: a result of those abuse, there are innocent people remaining in prison and they must be immediately freed. In my view, that discussion [in Paris] was not satisfactory and that attention was not sufficient.”

Grigorian predicted that the PACE will again refrain from discussing the situation in Armenia at its next plenary session due next month. “I think even the Monitoring Committee is unlikely to discuss it in April because some processes need to take place before we return to those discussions,” he said, adding that they are unlikely to resume before May 19.
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