The trial against Mariam Gevorgyan’s abuser has come to an end. Gevorgyan was abused by her husband and mother-in-law before escaping and suing them in court. The husband was protected as part of the blanket amnesty by the President making the mother-in-law the only perpetrator Gevorgyan could go after in court. That case ended recently with a sentence of four years for the mother-in-law. Unfortunately, the President’s amnesty commutes the sentence down to one year.
Gevorgyan’s case was one of the first domestic violence cases where the victim fought for justice all the way through the court system and “won.” Even with her hollow victory, her case is the first of what will be many. When the domestic violence law is finished next year, undoubtedly more cases will be brought as victims will have more legal tools available to them.
The Women’s Resource Center is coordinating a march tomorrow for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. A number of other NGOs are joining including PINK and Bridge of Hope. Everyone in Yerevan should attend.
My friend and fellow Birthright Armenia volunteer Taleen Moughamian recently finished her volunteering stint at the Children of Armenia Fund. Her latest blog post is about the challenges women face in many of the villages in Armenia. The situation is heart wrenching (especially the use of cytotec to induce abortions). Taleen’s work was phenomenal and involved providing IUDs, free screenings, and general counseling. Go read the details over on her blog.
Domestic Violence is a problem in Armenia. A major problem. Amnesty did a great report in 2008 on the problem and not much has progressed on the issue. The problem isn’t just the Armenian code is backwards (which it is), but that the Armenian people haven’t had an honest discussion on discrimination. This includes diasporans as well.
The conversation began with the killing of 20-year old Zaruhi Petrosyan by her husband in 2010. Zaruhi was constantly beaten by her husband and mother-in-law. The husband and mother-in-law wanted to exhort money and generally to cause suffering to someone below them. She even went to the police multiple times but they did nothing.
The police say they get very few calls on domestic violence, implying there is no problem, but the police here are not regarded as generally useful. In non-gendered disputes between private citizens, the view is that the police will support whoever pays the larger bribe. In gendered disputes, police are much much more likely to believe the man rather than the woman (see the quote in the picture below). In fact, non-marital rape is low in Armenia not because perpetrators are worried about female victims calling the police but because she’ll call her father, brothers, and uncles who will kill the perpetrator.
Recently, the horrible story of Mariam Gevorgyan’s 10 months of abuse at the hands of her former husband and mother-in-law came out. Mariam, unlike most victims of domestic violence here, told her story to the police and is pushing for criminal punishment for what happened to her. Unfortunately, her former husband was cleared of charges in an amnesty and the case against the mother-in-law isn’t going forward smoothly. Fortunately, there are relevant NGOs that are raising attention on the case including conducting protests in front of the President’s Office. she’s going to court again today and the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women will be protesting in front of the courtroom.
I’m in the fortunate position where I’m able to do something about this. The Government of Armenia is currently drafting a law on domestic violence. No longer will traditional, gender-insensitive, and insufficient criminal laws (e.g. battery) be the only legal tools to combat against domestic violence. The Human Rights Ombudsman has the mandate to provide recommendations on draft laws with human rights impacts. As the only native English speaker in the legal analysis office, my task is to review international best practices to ensure the draft law meets international standards. I’ve reviewed relevant UN handbooks, recommendations from CEDAW and UPR to Armenia, and discussions with people connected with local women-focused NGOs. If anyone has any recommendations for what should belong in the law, please contact me. I can’t release a copy of the draft law, but I’m willing to work with anyone to ensure this law is as good as possible to combat domestic violence.