By Anush Dashtents
A presidential commission on human rights will give a negative assessment of the situation with human rights in Armenia in its annual report expected soon. The consultative body advising President Robert Kocharian will deplore Armenia’s failure to completely abolish the death penalty, widespread mistreatment of suspects in custody and unfair trials.
The commission’s chairman, Hovannes Asrian, said this week that that will be the main focus of the report which is currently drafted by its members. He said they are particularly worried about the Armenian parliament’s failure to ratify Protocol No. 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights which outlaws capital punishment in peacetime.
A new Criminal Code approved by the parliament in the first reading this summer replaces the death penalty with a life sentence. Still, lawmakers added a special clause allowing the executing of five gunmen who launched a bloody attack on the National Assembly in October 1999.
This stance has been condemned by the Council of Europe which has made it clear that it will not tolerate any exceptions from the rule. In September, the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly gave Armenia until next June to sign up to Protocol No. 6.
Kocharian hopes that will be done by the next parliament to be elected in May 2003. The human rights commission’s position may be reflecting his own concerns about possible Council of Europe sanctions against Armenia.
Asrian said the commission will also decry “numerous instances” of police brutality and urge the authorities to allow Armenian citizens to lodge complaints to the UN Commission against Torture. He argued that the UN body is more accessible to ordinary people than the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which is already open to appeals from Armenia.
Mistreatment in custody is seen by local and international non-governmental organizations as the most common form of human rights abuse in Armenia. The New York-based Human Rights Watch concluded last January that “the willingness of [Armenian] judges to admit coerced evidence abetted the routine police practice of extracting confessions through beatings and other forms of torture.” A similar report in May by Amnesty International accused the authorities of failing to investigate torture allegations.
The presidential commission will also admit that many criminal suspects still do not get fair trials and are unjustly sent to prison. Asrian said that in one such example, an Armenian appeals court handed down totally different rulings on two very similar cases this year.
Armenian judges are appointed and can be dismissed by the president, the main reason why they rarely rule against the government. Bribery among the judges is also a serious problem hampering justice.