State Dept. Issues Armenian Rights Report

WASHINGTON–The US State Department today released a detailed report describing the state of human rights and democracy in Armenia in 1997–as part of its annual human rights reports on more than 190 countries around the world–reported the Armenian National Committee of America.

The report–prepared by the State Department’s Bureau of Human Rights–Democracy and Labor–concluded that "human rights problems [in Armenia] persist in several important areas." With regard to political rights–the report noted that the "Government’s manipulation of the 1996 presidential election continued to restrict citizen’s ability to change their government." The report made specific mention of Armenian National Movement chairman Vano Siradeghian’s role as "Interior Minister during the Government’s brutal crackdown after the flawed 1996 presidential election and demonstration that turned violent."

The State Department also cited the "routine" occurrence of torture during pre-trial detention.

The report read in part as follows:

The Constitution and the law prohibit torture. However–the practice of security personnel beating pretrial detainees during arrest and interrogation remains a routine part of criminal investigations. Most cases of police brutality go unreported. Prosecutors rely on confessions to secure convictions. Although defense lawyers may present evidence of torture in an effort to overturn improperly obtained confessions–and according to law all such charges must be investigated–judges and prosecutors routinely ignore such complaints even when the abuser can be identified. No one has been charged or disciplined for the beatings of opposition figures following the September 1996 post-election disturbances. Excerpt of US State Department–Armenia Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 Released by the Bureau of Democracy–Human Rights–and Labor–January 30–1998 Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Government’s manipulation of the 1996 presidential election continued to restrict the constitutional ability of citizens to change their government peacefully. Serious breaches of the election law and numerous irregularities in the 1995 and 1996 elections resulted in a lack of public confidence in the integrity of the overall election process.

In the 1996 presidential elections–incumbent President Ter-Petrosyan was declared the victor. His leading challenger–Vazgen Manoukian claimed fraud and filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court. The Court upheld the official election result–but many questions were raised regarding the Court’s procedures in the case and the Central Election Commission’s refusal to release detailed voting results from all precincts. An OSCE election observer mission noted "irregularities,"discrepancies," and "very serious breaches of the election law" which caused "concern for the overall integrity of the election process." Nevertheless–observers concluded that although the presidential election was flawed–the conduct of the campaign was an improvement over the 1995 parliamentary elections.

In anticipation of the 1999 parliamentary elections–Parliament took up the question of a universal electoral code. In the spring–a draft was prepared by the State and Legal Affairs Committee of the National Assembly–with the cooperation of opposition parties–non-governmental organizations–and international experts. In September a competing draft was prepared by a working group of the National Assembly under the auspices of the majority ANM faction–without such input. The new chairman of the State and Legal Affairs Committee held a series of meetings and conferences with political party representatives–local nongovernmental organizations–and international experts in an attempt to create a compromise draft that would–he stated–be consistent with international standards. This draft was not complete at year’s end. It was clear that serious differences remained between the ruling ANM and opposition parties on a number of issues–particularly on how to constitute balanced and effective electoral commissions.

Yerevan mayor Vano Siradeghian won election to the Parliament in a closely watched by-election in Hrazdan in October. Domestic observers–who were given full access to the electoral process–reported that the voting and counting were free of major irregularities. Their report highlighted gaps in the current electoral law on registration and voting of military personnel and on uniformed police presence at polling stations. They also noted that authorities did not enforce a ban on campaigning outside polling stations.

In November Siradeghian–in his capacity as recently-elected ANM chairman–stated that the ANM would not accept an electoral law that condemned them to electoral defeat. Siradeghian was Interior Minister during the Government’s brutal crackdown after the flawed 1996 presidential election and demonstration that turned violent. He retains his position as mayor while serving in the Parliament.

Under the Constitution–the President appoints the Prime Minister and has considerable influence in appointing judges. The Constitution provides for independent legislative and judicial branches–but in practice these branches are not insulated from political pressure from the executive branch.

The Government appoints the 10 regional governors (marzpets). The Constitution gives local communities the right to elect local authorities. However–local elected officials have limited powers–and are overshadowed in practice by more powerful governors appointed by the president–who can remove them from office.

The National Assembly continues to operate as a part-time institution for the duration of its first term. Regular sessions are held twice a year: the first from mid-September to mid-December and the second from early February until mid-June. Approximately one-third of the parliamentarians have been designated full-time deputies. Special sessions may be called–but may not last more than 6 days.

There are no legal restrictions on the participation of women and minorities in government and politics. However–due to traditional social attitudes–both are underrepresented in all branches of government. There is one woman in the Cabinet (Minister of Social Welfare). Only 11 of the 190 deputies in the Parliament are women. There are no members of minorities in the Cabinet or in the Parliament.

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