Category Archives: Human Rights

Incremental Progress: Reforming Prisons

Armenia’s prisons are completely overwhelmed. Through the mix of post-soviet views on being tough on crime and the fact that Armenia is a developing country has caused the prisons system to be both overused and under-resourced for the job.

On June 19, Manvel Hazroyan committed suicide at Nubarashen prison, a notoriously overcrowded prison. The 22-year old was serving a sentence of life in prison for a murder occurred during his military service. The Human Rights Ombudsman made a statement of how Hazroyan’s suicide is a reminder of the significant problems within the system, including the completely insufficient one psychologist per 100 prisoners.  While Hazroyan would be eligible for parole after 20 years, other life-termers have not received parole even after serving the 20 years, according to the Armenian Program of Innocence NGO.

Clergyman Rev. Gevorg Hovannisian, recently spoke with all 100 prisoners serving life sentences, and promotes giving convicts an opportunity for repentance and correction. Hovannisian emphasized how each story is unique and each prisoner should be considered uniquely. He even took on the role of developmental psychologist to push for a change in the law that blocks a life sentence for those under the age of 21. His emphasis on rehabilitation is commendable, but there is no response to the question of how Armenia will pay for the rehabilitation programs.

Fortunately, Armenia has agreed to a European-pushed prison reform project. The relatively cheap €300,000 project will decrease overpopulation, promote probationary sentences, and bring the penitentiary system in compliance with European and international laws and treaties.

Ideally, these reforms will help reform some of the prison culture that makes physical abuse a far-too-common occurrence. With less crowding and modern facilities, it’s possible that a higher level of professional will be expected from the prison guards.

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Necessity is the Mother of Equality

To zero fanfare, the Minister of Defense just ended one of Armenia’s long-standing formal discriminations: women can now apply to military schools. The lack of analysis or discussion stuns me as an American, something like this would have occurred only after significant public discourse in the US. Here, it seems like it’s just a side note.

My guess is this change occurred through the need for more soldiers, thus the title of this post. While the Government is saying that it’s simply part of education reform. If it was purely educational reform, then why was it announced by the Minister of Defense?

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Human Rights Reports, get Them while they’re Hot

Recently, there has been the release of two important human rights reports: The Human Rights Defender’s report on the presidential election and Civil Society Institute (CSI), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) joint report on general human rights in Armenia.

The Human Rights Defender’s report (press release, full report) covers the election from the beginning through post-election activities. It’s not the easiest read, nor does the Defender give recommendations, making this report a bit frustrating. It’s probably best to think of this as very well researched human rights journalism. The conclusion of the report is similar to OSCE/ODIHR’s hesitant support of the election with the Defender saying that “[t]he elections were freer than before, but many people do not believe were fair.”

The CSI/NHC/FIDH report (press release, full report) is a mid-term report based on how Armenia has been doing since 2010, when Armenia was reviewed by the Universal Periodic Review process. This report is not about the election, and instead it covers assorted major human rights issues: political persecution, torture and ill-treatment, judicial independence, and juvenile rights. They talk about the change to the criminal code (which should stop Armenia from getting regularly fined by the European Court of Human Rights), but there is no mention of the government rejecting the draft domestic violence bill. I can’t wait to hear how the government is going to defend that one in front of CEDAW or another international review.

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Gearing up for the Defender’s Office’s Annual Report

The Human Rights Defender’s Office, where I was a fellow at last year, puts out an annual report on Armenia’s human rights situation. I contributed in the final push for publication for last year’s report.

This year’s report is being developed, and as a “sneak peak,” the Defender’s Office releases key summaries of human rights violations in different sectors. The final report should be available sometime around May.

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Improving Domestic Legal Norms through the European Court of Human Rights

The government is finally amending the codes on civil procedure and penitentiaries. Armenia has been racking up a bill at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) because case after case goes up to the Court regarding the same issues, and the Court keeps finding against Armenia. It got to the point where the Court stopped analyzing the details of the new cases because they were substantially the same as previous ones, with the only question being how much Armenia needed to pay. Armenia currently owes an unpaid €42,550 from these cases.

Another big push for human rights comes from Parliament debating the alternative military service law that allows those with religious convictions to perform work service instead of military service. The change would help protect religious freedom, especially for the Armenian Jehovah Witness population who refuse to fight but are willing to serve the country in other ways. Armenia has already been fined €112,000 for violating these rights. Fortunately, there has been some progress in teaching students about these rights. Unfortunately, a Prosperous Armenia MP said that the bill shouldn’t be rushed through from pressure from the Council of Europe and that “a number of European countries are rife with related issues and that they should resolve them before forcing them on Armenia.” What the MP doesn’t realize is that 1) every country has human rights issues and every country should work to improve them regardless of “pressure” from the outside, 2) the ECHR can penalize Armenia with fines for not having these laws because Armenia gave the Court the power to do so.

Another great improvement is that Armenia is introducing the use of probation, which will lessen the loads on prisons and keep people free to settle their accounts and develop a stronger defense for their case. Unlawful detention is another issue where Armenia has had to pay thousands of euros for violating human rights.

It’s a simple idea. Armenia is bound to the ECHR as a member of the Council of Europe. Unless Armenia wants to keep paying fines, it needs to adapt its domestic codes to not violate human rights. How it does it (e.g. more western-style or eastern-style) doesn’t matter, as long as the final solution stops the government from infringing on the people’s rights.

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Repost: The story of two sisters: A perspective on the abortion issue in Armenia

“[B]efore you make any judgments about Armenian women who choose sex-selection [abortion], let me propose this scenario to you… Imagine that you are a twenty-seven year old woman living in a rural village.  You’ve already had two children.  One is seven years old and the other is five.  Now that they’re old enough to go to school, you help out your family by growing fruits and vegetables and making lavash to sell.  Your body constantly aches.  You have a fairly good relationship with your mother-in-law, but she’s getting older and all of the household chores rest on your shoulders.  You use family planning sometimes, but not all the time.  It’s more or less up to your husband and you don’t challenge him, because you think that whatever works for him, works fine for you.  You find out that you’re pregnant.  Meanwhile your husband has left the country to work as a seasonal migrant, and you’re left alone with two children to feed, clothe, and nurture; work in the field; a house to clean; and your elderly in-laws who depend on you. You can’t imagine raising another child, at least not now.  But you have two daughters and you know that it’s really important to your family to have a son.  They talk about it around you all the time.  You think that perhaps, if you have a son, at least he’ll stay in the home with you and his wife, your daughter-in-law, will help you manage.  Your daughters will get married and move out of the village when they reach the age of 18 or 20.  Maybe you’ll see them once in a while, but they’ll be busy with their own families.  Maybe, when you have a daughter-in-law, you won’t be as overburdened with work.  You’ll have security, which means that you’ll never end up in a dreaded old age home with no loved ones, no running water, and an air of hopelessness… The “choice” becomes rather simple, doesn’t it?”

Phenomenal story of village women’s reproductive challenges by Fulbrighter Ani Jilozen. Ani is doing great work providing reproductive health education and services for free throughout the villages. Her conclusion for how to tackle the abortion problem based on education, access to contraceptives and empowering women to be able to financial support their families would greatly benefit Armenian women.

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Happy International Women’s Day!

International Women's Day

March 8 is International Women’s Day. The day was first celebrated by the American Socialist Party, but the official holiday was created by the Soviet Union and was originally called International Working Women’s Day (and that’s why US doesn’t celebrate it). The day was officially made a global holiday when the UN recognized the day in 1977. More available in Wikipedia.

I was planning to write a long post on the number of gender-based issues in Armenia with domestic violence being the core. I decided against it. While a blog on human rights is primarily about the violation of those rights, sometimes we need to look at the positive and celebrate the victories we’ve won. Today, look around you, and recognize and celebrate the women that have made an impact in your life (and for the female readers, the impact you’ve made into the lives of others).

Here’s a video of Armenian Children celebrating the day in Republic Square in Yerevan.

For those that must have a little more political analysis, here is a video from Democracy Now from the 100th anniversary of the holiday on 2011 talking about how the history of the women’s rights movement and how it is very much a part of the general labor movement. It’s slightly dated with a focus on current political events in the US, but interesting nonetheless. Part 1 and 2.

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