MONITORING OF PRISONS IN NKR

Azat Artsakh - Nagorno Karabakh Republic [NKR]
01 June 05

The Centre for Civil Undertakings operating in Stepanakert since
October 2002 directs its efforts toward forming a civil society,
developing democratic institutions and defending the basic rights and
liberties of the citizens in Karabakh. The director of the centre is
Albert Voskanian. The main direction in the work of the centre is
monitoring of prisons in Nagorno Karabakh. In 2003 the Centre got
the permission of the NKR authorities to visit the penitentiaries
and hold regular monitoring there. The results of monitoring are
reflected in the report which is extended to the Council of Europe,
the UN Commission on Human Rights, the International Red Cross, the
OSCE and other international and human rights organizations, as well
as the relevant organizations of Nagorno Karabakh. The Centre for
Civil Undertakings endorses the abolition of capital punishment in
NKR in autumn of 2003. The Prison of Shushi situated on the outskirts
of the town of Shushi, has been operating since 1995 on the basis
of the local prison (the prison was built in 1896). The prison has
been guided by the Correctional Code, the Internal Regulations and
the orders of the Police of Nagorno Karabakh. The prison institutes
5 regimes: minimum-security, medium-security, special, prison and
maximum-security. The prison was designed for 350 inmates. The jail
under the Police of Nagorno Karabakh is located in Stepanakert, near
the building of the department of home affairs of the police. The
building (built in 1989), consists of 31 lock-ups, 6 cells for 2
inmates, 3 solitary sells, and 15 administrative units. The cells
are situated along the both sides of the long corridor on all the
three floors. The jail is separated from the administrative part of
the building with bars. It was designed for 200 prisoners. It is a
minimum-security jail, as instituted by the corresponding decision
of the Police of Nagorno Karabakh. According to the director of
the Centre for Civil Undertakings, over the past two years the
situation has improved. The moral and psychological state of the
inmates is improving. There is growing trust among the inmates in
the Centre. They often tell the members of the centre about their
problems. The centre discusses their problems with the staff of
the jail to solve the problem, if possible, on the spot. "We are,
in a way, intermediaries," says Albert Voskanian. The psychologist
of the centre constantly works with the inmates, which also produces
positive results. On the initiative of the Centre the rights of the
inmates were placed beside the list of their duties. Besides, the
centre gave a computer to the inmates of the jail. This is the first
case in the entire South Caucasus. Together with Mesrop Mashtots
University the centre organizes computer courses for the staff of
the jail (the university cooperates with the centre) who will in
their turn teach the inmates. After the courses the inmates will
take an exam and receive certificates. The centre collected books
for the prison of Shushi and the jail of Stepanakert, as well as
organized subscription of newspapers and magazines. When needed,
the centre supplies the prisoners with medicine. According to
A. Voskanian, who has visited prisons in Armenia, Georgia, one of
the Azerbaijani prisons in the Soviet Union, the penitentiaries of
Nagorno Karabakh positively differ from them, although they are far
from the European standards. A. Voskanian added that an Azerbaijani
human rights defender who visited the prison of Shushi twice stated
that the conditions in the prisons of Karabakh are better than in the
Azerbaijani prisons. However, the prisons of Karabakh, and especially
the administrative bodies need fundamental reforms. Another important
reform is the transfer of penitentiaries from the jurisdiction of
the Police to the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. During
the monitoring the prisoners make complaints, usually of the prison
regime. However, in order to change the regime, it is necessary to
change the laws first. They do not complain of food. The inmates have
three meals a day, and once a month their relatives may send them 50 kg
parcels with food. If they do not have relatives, the Red Cross takes
care of them. The latest monitoring was held on May 21. The monitoring
is held once a month, but in April the Centre failed to hold it for
a number of reasons. Like during the previous visits, the members of
the Centre talked to the prisoners. The psychologist is currently
working with four inmates. According to Albert Voskanian, several
problems were solved on the spot, the others need time. The director
of the Centre is satisfied with the results of the latest meeting.

EVIKA BABAYAN. 01-06-2005