In its annual global report issued on Tuesday, HRW said the authorities continue to tolerate widespread police torture, restrict freedom of assembly and maintain a grip on broadcast media. It also noted their failure to solve the deaths of ten people in the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
“Armenia's international partners did not make full use of their leverage to press Armenia to fulfill its human rights commitments,” reads the report. It points to the fact that the European Union saw progress in the implementation of political reforms promised by the Armenian government and launched talks last July on an “association agreement” with Yerevan.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, representatives of some Armenian civic groups were particularly encouraged by HRW’s rebuke of the West. They claimed that Western governments and human rights bodies have done little to make the Armenian government improve its human rights record.
“In its previous assessments of the situation with human rights, HRW sent the main message to the authorities in terms of changing the situation,” said Artur Sakunts of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly. “This report sends a message not only to the authorities but international structures, of which Armenia is a member.”
Armenia - Artur Sakunts, a human rights activist, at a press-conference in Yerevan, 16Jul,2010
Vartan Harutiunian, an opposition-linked activist campaigning for the release of Armenian opposition members arrested in 2008, also emphasized this fact. “It is important to frequently talk about that because international, European structures and institutions are obliged to do that,” he said. “They get paid for that.”
Harutiunian accused the EU and other pan-European bodies of “destroying European values” in their dealings with the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian. “They have put human rights for sale and made human dignity a subject of haggling,” he charged.
Zhanna Aleksanian, chairwoman of the Journalists for Human Rights non-governmental organization, singled out the HRW report’s reference to the mistreatment of Armenian army soldiers by their commanders and fellow conscripts. “The army may well be at the center of international organizations’ attention given last year’s high-profile deadly incidents,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Mesrop Harutiunian of the Yerevan-based Committee to Protect Freedom of Speech praised HRW for faulting the authorities for keeping the A1+ TV station off the air and “harassing” another independent broadcaster, GALA. “The authorities are preparing the TV airwaves for the elections of 2012 and 2013,” he claimed.
Meanwhile, Razmik Zohrabian, a deputy chairman of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), rejected the HRW criticism, saying that the respected watchdog’s report is “not quite objective.” He said the Sarkisian administration has made “quite a lot of rectifications” on the domestic political stage since the 2008 unrest.
Zohrabian linked the report with “relatively objective” statements made in Yerevan last week by Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights. “There is a policy of sticks and carrots,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “One organization pressures us, while another is a little objective. This is the [Western] policy towards Armenia.”
Like HRW, Hammarberg criticized the authorities for not punishing anyone for the unrest deaths. He also called for the release of nine opposition figures remaining in prison, but stopped short of describing them as political prisoners.