Armenian lawmakers will start formally discussing this week a controversial government bill aimed at combatting domestic violence, deputy parliament speaker Arpine Hovannisian said on Monday.
The bill drafted by Armenia’s Justice Ministry would introduce criminal and administrative liability for specific cases defined as “violence within families.” It would also obligate the state to protect female victims against their violent spouses, including by providing them with special shelters.
The initial version of the proposed legislation was backed by women’s rights groups campaigning for tougher government action against the practice. But it met earlier this fall with fierce resistance from some conservative groups and nationalist public figures.
Senior members of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) added their voiced to the criticism. The HHK spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, demanded on November 1 that the Justice Ministry revise provisions of the bill that “contradict traditional Armenian family values.” The ministry was quick to amend the draft law.
According to Hovannisian, a standing committee of the Armenian parliament committee will start discussing on Thursday the amended version that has already been formally approved by Prime Minister Karen Karapetian’s cabinet. The changes made in the bill address the HHK concerns, said the vice-speaker affiliated with the ruling party.
In particular, the title of the proposed legislation has been expanded to indicate that it is also aimed at “restoring solidarity within families.” Women’s groups have criticized this phrase, saying that “solidarity” is not a legal term and could be open to different interpretations by relevant authorities.
Hovannisian insisted that this wording “does not reduce in any way our commitment to combatting violence.” The Armenian authorities, she said, are simply keen to not only hold accountable those responsible for domestic violence but also minimize family breakups through “psychological counselling.”
Hovannisian spoke to reporters after attending a panel discussion on domestic violence with the state human rights ombudsman, Arman Tatoyan, and the ambassadors of the United States, the European Union, France and Germany to Armenia. Western governments have long encouraged the authorities in Yerevan to tackle the problem in earnest.
Garik Hayrapetian, an Armenian expert with the United Nations Population Fund, said after the discussion that the amended bill puts a weaker emphasis on the rights of violence victims. “It’s now weaker with regard to the purpose it is supposed to serve,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The Armenian police recorded 3,571 cases of domestic violence from 2012-2016. According to the Yerevan-based Women’s Resource Center, more than 50 Armenian women have been beaten to death and murdered otherwise by their husbands or other relatives in the last five years.
A senior representative of the police called for the passage of the bill when she spoke at parliamentary hearings last month.