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The London-based human rights group Amnesty International has criticized the state of human rights protection in Armenia, noting persisting “impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations.”

In its annual “State Of The World’s Human Rights” report released on Thursday, Amnesty also condemned the restriction of freedom of expression and attacks on journalists in Armenia, as well as “the ban on holding demonstrations in the center of the capital, Yerevan”, which it said has remained in place since being introduced during the state of emergency in March 2008.

The global watchdog said in Armenia “protection of women and girls against violence fell short of international standards” and “the government failed to provide a genuine alternative to military service.”

The report says in June last year Armenian lawmakers granted an amnesty for opposition activists imprisoned in relation to the March 2008 post-election events in Yerevan, but notes that it covered only those who had not been charged with violent crimes and had been sentenced to prison terms of less than five years. It also acknowledges that those who did not fall under the amnesty had their sentences halved.

Amnesty also notes “some progress” made in Azerbaijan-Armenian talks over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan that broke away following the 1990 war. In particular, it says “on 2 November [2008], following talks in Moscow, Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a joint agreement aimed at resolving the dispute on the basis of international law.”

In the Impunity section the human rights group writes: “In October, four police officers were charged with using force against members of the public during the demonstrations on 1 March 2008. By the end of the year, no independent inquiry had been conducted into allegations of use of force by police during the March 2008 events. In June 2008, an ad hoc parliamentary commission had been established to investigate the events, but did not function because the opposition refused to participate. A separate fact-finding group made up of representatives from diverse political factions and the Ombudsperson was disbanded by presidential decree in June 2009, before it became operational.”

The report also refers to the case of a leading human rights activist in Armenia, Mikael Danielian, who was shot at point-blank range with a pneumatic gun by a former leader of the pro-government Armenian Progressive Party in May 2008.

“The prosecution in the case was discontinued in May on the grounds that the perpetrator had allegedly acted in self-defense,” Amnesty writes. “Human rights groups voiced concern that key witness statements had not been considered by the prosecution. Mikael Danielian lodged an appeal against this decision, but no decision was made on his appeal by the end of the year.”

The Freedom of Expression part of the report refers to the case of Argishti Kiviryan, a lawyer and journalist, who was severely beaten by a group of unidentified men outside his home in Yerevan on 30 April [2009]. The attackers reportedly beat him with sticks and attempted to shoot him. The OSCE Representative for Media Freedom called on the authorities to investigate the attack and expressed concern about the lack of investigations into violent attacks against journalists, contributing to a climate of impunity.

According to Amnesty, Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to suffer discrimination in Armenia. The human rights body finds that “alternative civilian service to conscription continued to be under the control of the military.” It writes: “Conscientious objectors had to wear military uniform, were disciplined by the Military Prosecutor’s office and were forbidden to hold prayer meetings. As of
1 November, 71 Jehovah’s Witnesses were serving prison sentences of 24 to 36 months for refusing to perform military service on grounds of conscience.”

“In October, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that there had not been a violation of the right to freedom of conscience and religion when [one conscientious objector] Vahan Bayatyan was sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment for his refusal to perform military service on religious grounds. The Court held that ‘the right of conscientious objection was not guaranteed by any article of the Convention’,” writes Amnesty. “In a dissenting opinion, one of the Court judges stated that the judgment failed to reflect the almost universal acceptance that the right to conscientious objection is fundamental to the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”

Vahan Bayatyan is currently appealing to the Grand Chamber against this ruling.

Regarding violence against women and girls in Armenia, Amnesty writes that in its concluding observations published in February [2009], the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern about the lack of legislation referring to domestic violence and the absence of a responsible state institution and called on the Armenian authorities “to enact, without delay, legislation specifically addressing domestic violence against women”, and to provide sufficient shelters.

“A draft law on domestic violence was under discussion by the authorities, but had not been presented to parliament by the end of the year. During 2009, only one shelter for victims of domestic violence, run by the Women’s Rights Centre, was operational,” the Amnesty report says.

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