Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday commended Armenia’s new authorities for holding general elections widely recognized as democratic and “reviving” a criminal investigation into the 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan.
“International observers found that the December parliamentary vote was conducted with ‘broad public trust,’ and was free from abuses that marred past elections, including vote buying and pressure on voters,” the New York-based watchdog said in a statement attached to its annual report on human rights practices in more than 100 countries.
“Ensuring a free and fair vote is an important first step for Armenia’s new leadership,” the statement quoted Giorgi Gogia, HRW’s associate Europe and Central Asia director, as saying.
“But it’s only a beginning. The authorities need to use this mandate to push through reforms to address the human rights problems that brought people to the streets,” Gogia added in reference to last spring’s “velvet revolution” that brought Nikol Pashinian to power.
HRW’s World Report 2019 says that Pashinian “inherited a country plagued with corruption and myriad human rights problems,” including police brutality, domestic violence and discrimination against LGBT people.
“In a commendable move, the new authorities made progress in existing investigations into abuses that had been stalled for years,” it says, referring, among other things, to the renewed investigation into the deadly breakup of 2008 post-election protests in Yerevan.
The HRW report cites criminal charges brought in July against former President Robert Kocharian and two retired generals accused of illegally using Armenian army units against opposition supporters protesting against alleged fraud in the February 2008 presidential election. “The previous investigation was one-sided, with 52 protesters sent to prison,” it says.
Kocharian, who was again arrested in December, strongly denies the accusations, saying that they are part of a political “vendetta” launched by Prime Minister Pashinian. The latter was one of the main speakers at the 2008 protests and spent about two years in prison because of that.
“As the authorities deal with past grievances, they should fully respect due process rights for all detainees and ensure independence of the judiciary,” said HRW.
The watchdog also urged the authorities in Yerevan to tackle domestic violence and discrimination against LGBT people and ensure “quality education” for children with disabilities.
“The [former] authorities approved an action plan in February to carry out the 2017 domestic violence law, but the [current] government needs to increase the number of shelter spaces for domestic violence survivors, establish state-run shelters, and conduct public awareness campaigns about the issue,” said the HRW statement.
“The authorities also need to address widespread harassment, discrimination, and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people,” it added. “Political parties and some politicians tried to exploit widespread homophobia and made hateful and derogatory comments during the pre-election period.”