Ending a fact-finding visit to Armenia, officials from the United Nations Human Rights Council said on Wednesday that they heard numerous allegations of police torture from individuals kept in local prisons.
The council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention spent the past ten days visiting prisons and detention centers across the country and meeting Armenian state officials, politicians, legal experts and civil society representatives. The six-member group was also able to privately interview more than 150 Armenian convicts and criminal suspects.
“Many detainees and prisoners interviewed by the Working Group denounced having been subjected to ill-treatment and beatings at police stations,” it said in a statement presented to journalists in Yerevan. “Police and National Security investigators use pressure, including ill-treatment, to obtain confessions, as a central part of their investigations.
“They further denounced that prosecutors and judges refused to admit evidence of ill treatment into court proceedings. Many cases of beatings during arrest and interrogation while in detention were not reported because of fear of retribution.”
“Interviews and meetings with NGOs and legal professionals provide further support for these assessments,” added the statement.
The group noted at the same time that none of the interviewees alleged physical abuse at the hands of prison guards. It said the Armenian authorities should therefore pay “particular attention” to the observance of due process of law during arrest and interrogation.
The Armenian police and other law-enforcement bodies have long been accused of beating and bullying suspects to extract crime confessions. Local and international human rights organizations believe that the illegal practice remains widespread despite repeated government pledges to eliminate it.
The UN officials also expressed concern about what they and many Armenians see as a lack of judicial independence in the country. “Magistrates and judges as a rule grant the requests from the prosecutor, and rarely those coming from the defense,” said their statement. “Most of jurists interviewed, are of the view that sentences and other judicial decisions too closely follow the criteria imposed by the Prosecutors.”
Four of the convicts interviewed by the group members are Armenian opposition figures who were arrested following the February 2008 presidential election and imprisoned on highly controversial charges. The UN mission declined to describe them as well as a dozen other oppositionists remaining in jail as political prisoners.
“We have deliberately expressed no opinion on these cases,” Hadji Malik Sou, the head of the group, explained at a news conference. “We don’t have enough facts to be able to express ourselves on this subject.”
But Levon Zurabian, a leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) who met with the UN representatives last week, insisted that they did receive sufficient information proving that the oppositionists were jailed for political reasons.
The Armenian authorities maintain that none of these cases is politically motivated.