Seminar Discusses Human Rights Status in Army

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–The August 27 seminar organized by the Ebert Fund in conjunction with the Accord Center of Legal–Scientific and Political Research focused on major human rights problems in Armenia.

Reports were made by Helsinki Association President Avetik Ishkhanian and Presidential Human Rights Commission member Vardan Haroutiunian.

Most of the seminar participants agreed that human rights violations in the army is a serious issues. President of the Cooperation & Democracy organization Mark Grigorian suggested that in 1997 alone the number of soldiers who died in the army reached 350. The military policy patrolling streets often stop young men who are originally from Armenia but at the moment are citizens of other states to send them for active military service. No appeals to embassies produce due effect in similar cases.

Arbitrary rule in places of confinement and jails of pre-trial detention is an equally acute problem. Society no longer responds to the reported use of violence and torture by investigation agencies in extracting evidence–Grigorian added.

Sometimes extortion in jails acquires unique forms. Thus–the psychologist Hrach Tatevian referred to the widespread practice of demanding gasoline from a prisoner for taking him to the court-room. Otherwise–trials may drag on for ages.

Shavarsh Kocharian–head of the parliamentary commission for education and science–thinks that trials are often contradictory to the law and even to common sense as the judiciary is not fully independent.

There was a general agreement among the seminar participants that human rights problems have little public response. The seminar reproached the press–in particular–criticized it for self-censorship.

The seminar also criticized the activities of the Presidential Human Rights Commission–whose member Vardan Haroutiunian admitted that the Commission–as a rule–is guided by state interests rather than by the interests of ordinary people–which are often ignored.

In Ishkhanian’s opinion–Council of Europe membership will help Armenia gain mechanisms of human rights protection. For example Armenia will be able to apply to the International Human Rights Court.

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