Notes From Hairenik
I just read an interesting report on ArmeniaLiberty that Armenia is considered to be a significant human rights violator, so much so that an independent monitoring organization, called Human Rights Watch (HRW), is campaigning to have Armenia not be elected to serve on the United Nations Human Rights Council. There are 47 seats available, and Armenia is among 64 countries that are running for election to the council. And of those countries 28 of them, including Armenia, are on HRW's blacklist, along with Azerbaijan, Russia, China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. In order for Armenia to be elected to the council it needs to receive 96 votes from the UN General Assembly's 191 membership.

In its overview, HRW was pretty critical of Armenia's record on human rights violations. It stated the following:

Although the international community continued in 2005 to look favorably on Armenia for its economic performance, the government has failed to improve its human rights record. The crackdown on opposition parties and supporters in 2004 led to fewer public demonstrations in 2005, and, consequently, less overt government pressure on the opposition. However, the authorities continued to use their powers to limit political activity.

Then it stated:

Torture and ill-treatment in police custody remain widespread in Armenia. Torture usually occurs in pre-trial detention with the aim of coercing a confession or evidence against third parties. Abuse and mistreatment within the army is also widespread, with dozens of suspicious deaths occurring every year.

The overview goes on to describe in detail specific incidents related to violations having to do with freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and most importantly in my opinion, state violence and intimidation.

The question is: what are we going to do about it? Human rights violations have clearly become an embarrassing problem that is harder and harder to run away from. Citizens in Armenia feel paralyzed I assume to make changes regarding how their rights should be defended. The stigma behind the interrogation practices by the "KGB", or the NSA as it is officially called now, and the fear associated with being "taken away" by the agency, is hampering efforts to protest against ill practices made by the government regarding election fraud, corruption, and so forth. People who opposed the government when they were being evicted from their homes illegally were beaten and kicked out onto the street. I heard of one case where a woman living in a building that was slated to be destroyed left to go to the store, and by the time she returned she found that her house had been demolished. Out of shock she had an immediate heart attack and died. Do we let such incidents continue?

If anything Armenian diasporan communities should be putting pressure on the Armenian government to clean up its act regarding violating the rights of Armenian citizens. But they're not. In the US, there are two major organizations--both involved in lobbying but have influence in Armenian affairs--that have as far as I'm aware refrained from making any statements regarding Armenia's poor human rights record. The Armenian National Committee of America, an organization whose goal is to obsessively lobby the US government to recognize the Armenian Genocide and convince Turkey to do the same, could start putting together an action plan as to how it can mobilize Armenians to stand up for the rights of their brothers and sisters in the homeland. This effort would be a sway from their current efforts however. And the fact that the ANCA is the political wing of the ARF-Dashnaktsutiun, which is a member of the three-party coalition backing the Kocharian administration, also gets in the way. How do you criticize the president that you officially support and who has granted your organization ministry seats? What human rights violations? The mentality is the following: there may be some isolated cases, but the actions of a few justify the appropriate steps needed to be taken to bring about order. Another influential organization, called the Armenian Assembly of America, also could do something about voicing protests on behalf of the diaspora against human rights violations. But that's tricky as well, since some high-ranking members of the organization are doing big business in Armenia, especially in real estate. Ruffling the government's feathers when people get beaten up for defending their rights is bad for business.

So what do we do? Do we let it continue or do we get involved? Do we put pressure on the Armenian government to be more open to public criticism of its domestic policies, or do we continue to let it--a supposed democratically elected government mind you--crack down on those who think differently about how their society should exist for them and their families?

Now Armenians are not as hungry as they were five or 10 years ago. The nouveau riche of Yerevan forgot about how badly they were living, and how they expected changes from their government to resolve issues regarding the absence of electricity and lack of bread. Now people are living the high life, buying European cars, going to cafes night after night, eating at good restaurants, dressing well. Why protest a good thing? After all, they aren't the ones who are having their rights violated--at least not yet.


Blogger redefinEdworld said...
I actually did some work for Human Rights Watch a little while ago, and initially I was in denial how Armenia, a victim of the gravest human rights violation, genocide, could be such a violator of human rights today. But it is very real, and your post really highlighted many important points and how politics plays into it. What do we do? As a future human rights lawyer, what we do is try to get to the root of the problem. There are some NGOs in Armenia such as the Civil Society Institute that are working for the restoration of human rights, and that will help individuals directly. Solving the problem is difficult since it is so intertwined with politics and organizations such as the ANCA support the president under whose watch these violations are occuring. For the short term, these human rights violations including human trafficking has caused me to shift my legal focus to the Caucusus region, and I believe a blockbuster report of some kind will expose what is going on from the inside and will leave organizations on the outside to take action. The truth is something that is hard to deny...just ask Turkey.

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
Definitely any step taken against corruption in the Caucasus is a huge leap forward. From what I understand corruption is even more rampant in Armenia's neighboring countries Azerbaijan and Georgia, so obviously the future of all three countries could benefit from a report such as the one you hope to write. I look forward to reading it.

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
By the way--in case readers are unaware, Armenia was not elected to the UN's Human Rights Council, but Azerbaijan, also on the HRW's blacklist, was elected.