A senior member of the ruling Republican Party (HHK) on Monday rejected the latest U.S. criticism of Armenia’s human rights record which is contained in an annual global report released by the State Department.
“The most significant human rights problems during the year were limitations on the right of citizens to change their government, corruption and lack of transparency in government, and the limited independence of the judiciary,” reads the report made public late last week. “Courts remained subject to political pressure from the executive branch, which resulted in some politically motivated prosecutions and sentencing,” it says.
The U.S. State Department also accused Armenian law-enforcement bodies of continuing to arbitrarily arrest individuals and ill-treat them in custody. “Although the government took some steps to punish officials in the security forces and elsewhere who committed abuses, some members of the security forces continued to commit human rights abuses with impunity while under the direction of civilian leadership,” it said.
The report further points to “flaws” in the conduct of the May 2012 parliamentary elections, saying that those included “the misuse of government resources” by the HHK and “credible allegations of vote buying.”
Hovannes Sahakian, the number two figure in the HHK’s parliamentary faction, dismissed the report, saying that it lacks documentary evidence substantiating the U.S. criticism. “If we, for example, replace the word Armenia there by other words, that can equally apply to other states, including democratic ones, including the United States,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“We too have concerns regarding corruption, the situation existing in prisons, especially their overcrowding,” said Sahakian. He insisted that that the Armenian authorities are making real efforts to remedy the situation.
The pro-government lawmaker also argued that U.S. officials have previously praised the conduct of Armenia’s last parliamentary elections. The report’s more negative assessment of the vote is therefore “a bit incomprehensible,” he said.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced such praise when she visited Yerevan last June. Clinton said she hopes the next Armenian elections will be “even better.”
Unlike the authorities in Yerevan, Armenian human rights activists reacted positively to the State Department’s report scrutinizing human rights practices around the world. One of them, Mikael Danielian and of the Armenian Helsinki Association, said it “completely reflects the reality” in Armenia.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Danielian singled out the lack of judicial independence, dismissing reforms of the courts regularly announced by the authorities. “Those declared reforms end in conferences or seminars,” he claimed. “In fact, no reforms are carried out. The judicial system is totally corrupt.”