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Amnesty International Annual Report 2004: Armenia

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  • Amnesty International Annual Report 2004: Armenia



    Head of state: Robert Kocharian
    Head of government Andranik Markarian
    Death penalty: abolitionist for ordinary crimes
    UN Women's Convention: ratified
    Optional Protocol to UN Women's Convention: not signed

    Covering events from January - December 2003

    In line with its human rights commitments to the Council of Europe,
    Armenia abolished capital punishment in peacetime. However, it failed
    to meet its commitments to the Council of Europe on conscientious
    objectors to compulsory military service, who continued to be
    imprisoned. The authorities detained hundreds of protesters who took
    part in peaceful opposition rallies to contest the outcome of the
    presidential elections.


    In March incumbent President Kocharian won presidential elections that
    were marred by widespread voting irregularities, including ballot
    box stuffing, and intimidation and violence towards independent and
    opposition election monitors. Mass opposition rallies protested at
    illegal election practices. Following international criticism, the
    President acknowledged that the elections had not met international
    standards and set up a commission of inquiry to investigate reported
    irregularities. Nevertheless, parliamentary elections in May were
    likewise flawed by reported ballot box stuffing and intimidation of
    international observers. Parties that supported the President won a
    large majority in parliament.

    Administrative arrests

    Some 100 protesters who participated in peaceful demonstrations after
    the presidential elections were reportedly sentenced to short prison
    terms after being convicted of disrupting public order. Reportedly
    denied access to lawyers, they were sentenced in closed trials without
    legal representation. In April the Armenian Constitutional Court
    declared the arrests unlawful.

    Prisoner of conscience Artur Sakunts, Chairman of the Vanadzor
    branch of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly (HCA), was released from
    prison on 25 March after serving a 10-day sentence. He was arrested
    after he attempted to organize a public meeting on 15 March on the
    findings of HCA election monitoring. He was tried the same day and
    convicted of "disobeying the authorities" (Article 182 of the Armenian
    Administrative Code). He was not permitted access to a lawyer before
    or during his trial. His arrest and the firebombing of the Vanadzor
    HCA office in the early hours of 14 March raised fears of a campaign
    to prevent the HCA from carrying out legitimate human rights work.

    Unfair trial concerns

    In December Nairi Unanyan and five co-accused were sentenced to life
    imprisonment by a court in Yerevan for their part in the October
    1999 attack on the Armenian parliament in which eight deputies and
    government officials, including Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian
    and parliamentary Speaker Karen Demirchian, were killed. There were
    concerns about the fairness of the trial and the widespread support
    for imposing the death penalty in the case.

    Proceedings in the case had been accompanied since the 1999 arrests
    by concerns about due process and the detention conditions of those
    detained in connection with the arrests. These included allegations of
    torture and ill-treatment, difficulties in access to defence lawyers,
    lack of access to families, and denial of access to independent
    medical practitioners. Widespread public and political support
    for the death penalty in this case had led to the Council of Europe
    warning Armenia that it would face suspension from the organization
    if any of the defendants were executed.

    Death penalty

    In May parliament adopted a new criminal code, which abolished the
    death penalty in peacetime but contained a provision that could have
    allowed use of the death penalty in the parliamentary shootings
    trial. In July President Kocharian commuted all outstanding death
    sentences to life in prison.

    In September the newly elected parliament voted to abolish the death
    penalty in peacetime and to ratify Protocol No. 6 to the European
    Convention on Human Rights, one of the commitments Armenia undertook
    when it joined the Council of Europe in 2001. However, in November
    deputies voted unanimously to amend the new criminal code to deny the
    right of parole to prisoners serving life sentences for grave crimes
    including murder and assassination of a state or public figure. It was
    widely believed that the amendment was intended to ensure that those
    convicted in the parliamentary shootings case were never released.

    Conscientious objection

    Parliament adopted a law in December that provided for unarmed military
    service of three years or alternative civilian service under the
    Ministry of Defence for three and a half years - almost double the
    length of ordinary military service.

    Conscientious objectors continued to be sentenced to prison terms
    despite Council of Europe requirements that all those imprisoned for
    conscientious objection should be freed. By December, prison sentences
    of between one and two years had been imposed on at least 27 men,
    all Jehovah's Witnesses, for conscientious objection. Five more had
    been arrested and were awaiting trial. A further two had been released
    on parole.