Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), paid homage to eight Armenian opposition supporters killed in the unrest and assured their relatives that the Paris-based group will strive to have the “criminals” responsible for their deaths brought to justice.
“We have come here because we defend the truth, we defend justice, we defend all those who died for freedom,” Belhassen told them at a meeting in Yerevan. “Your children did not die for nothing. Your children will make this country move forward.”
The two-day FIDH conference will get underway on Tuesday and bring together more than 300 human rights campaigners from 140 countries of the world. Among them is Shirin Ebadi, a prominent Iranian activist and Nobel prize winner.
President Serzh Sarkisian was initially due to open the forum with a keynote address. However, he has cancelled the address for unknown reasons. The participants will instead hear speeches by Gagik Harutiunian, chairman of the Armenian Constitutional Court, and Justice Minister Gevorg Danielian.
The event has already been marred by a boycott threatened by some Armenian human rights groups invited to take part it. Their leaders have accused the FIDH of being reluctant to discuss the lingering fallout from Armenia’s February 2008 presidential election and deadly street clashes sparked by it.
Armenia -- Relatives of March 2008 unrest victims meet Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Yerevan, 05Apr2010
The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) has also expressed concern, claiming that the Armenian authorities have convinced the FIDH to hold the conference in Yerevan in an effort to burnish their image abroad. Belhassen met the HAK’s top leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian to discuss those concerns on Sunday.
In a short statement, the HAK cited Ter-Petrosian as telling her that failure by the FIDH conferences to adopt a “principled position” on the “deplorable” situation with democracy and human rights in the country would “deeply disappoint” Armenians. That would also be “a big present to Armenia’s dictatorial authorities,” he said.
Belhassen sought to dispel such fears as she met with the parents and other close relatives of Ter-Petrosian supporters killed in vicious clashes with security forces in central Yerevan on March 1-2, 2008. “One should not see us only shaking the hand of the president of the republic,” she said. “We have come to also tell how justice should be administered in this country.”
The FIDH will raise the matter “at the highest level” and will stand by the victims’ relatives “until the end” in their quest for the punishment of officials responsible for those deaths, continued Belhassen. “This congress will be held here for you as well, so that the whole world hears about the fate that awaited your children” she said. “I ask you to remain mobilized and hope that the truth will be known one day and the criminals will be punished one day.”
The Armenian authorities have arrested and prosecuted dozens of opposition supporters on charges stemming from the March 2008 “mass disturbances.” Also, several police officers have received suspended prison sentences for excessive use of force against protesters demanding a re-run of the disputed election. Nobody has been prosecuted yet for causing the deaths of the eight protesters as well as two police personnel.
“We have made sure that dictators, heads of state have been tried by courts, either in their own countries or by international courts,” declared the FIDH president. But she did not specify whether her organization thinks Sarkisian or his predecessor Robert Kocharian should be held personally accountable for the casualties.
Both men have justified the use of lethal force, saying that the 2008 violence was part of an opposition attempt to stage a coup d’etat. Ter-Petrosian and his allies strongly deny, however, trying to seize power by force.