On 10 and 11 May, 2012 in the framework of the 48th session of the UN Committee Against Torture, the third periodic report of the Republic of Armenia was considered regarding implementation of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, ratified by the Republic of Armenia in 1993.
Interview with Tatevik Gharibyan, lawyer of Civil Society Institute (CSI), who was present at the 48 the session of the UN Committee Against Torture
How important this session was for the UN, the Armenian authorities and population, the non-governmental organizations, which submitted their reports?
It was a regular report, the third one, which was submitted really late, but the members of the Committee noted that they are grateful for the report, which was late but at least submitted. The last report was submitted in 1999. In general, the UN highly appreciates participation of non-governmental organizations, as they present additional information, which allows to draw a more complete picture of situation of the state, and due to their intervention, issues and questions are raised with an expectation to find solutions. CSI actively observed the situation on torture, and submitted a report prepared in cooperation with International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
What questions were raised by you and what was the reaction on them during the session?
During the session a number of cases were highlighted, including submitted by us the cases of Levon Gulyan, Vahan Khalafyan, and Tigran Ohanjanyan and Artak Nazaryan – murder in the army – and other. The question on efficiency of the special investigation service was raised regarding Levon Gulyan's case. The state answered that there is a court decision to carry out a new expertise, and the case is in the phase of investigation. We also raised the case of Stepan Hovakimyan, who has been under custody for more than two years. This case is at the stage of judicial proceedings, and the basis of the accusation is confessions, although since the pre-trial stage he has declared that his confessions were obtained through beatings.
What type of questions were raised by the Committee, how well it is informed on current issues of Armenia?
The Committee raised issues on efficiency of investigation of the cases of reported torture, on compensation to victims of torture, on impunity. Although there is a special investigation service in Armenia, they questioned effectiveness of their investigation. They asked whether safeguards are provided to have a lawyer, to inform relatives, and to medical expertise. It is well-known that the police may invite people to give explanation on a case without informing them about their status in the case and without sending formal written notice. At this time people are put in a very vulnerable position. Notwithstanding the decision of the Court of Cassation that a person should enjoy all the guarantees since the moment of his/her appearance in the police, these guarantees are not actually provided.
The members of the UN Committee were well informed and raised also a question on juvenile justice, particularly that placement of children into special institutions was not regulated by legislation. They were interested in trafficking, in the question that closed institutions were overcrowded, and in maintenance of persons sentenced to life imprisonment.
In addition, the question of investigation of the 1st of March events was raised. On Khalafyan's case they asked whether the investigation considered a version of murder in addition to the version of suicide.
The lack of public trust toward the justice system was discussed separately as the reason for victims not to report on torture.
Did the state respond in a proper manner?
At the beginning the state was giving general answers, but after that the Committee raised the questions again, expecting more detailed answers. There was a question on amnesty, which according to the Committee, should not apply to the cases of torture. As the right to be free from torture is a jus cogens norm, an absolute right, nevertheless those who were found guilty for torture of Khalafyan were released by amnesty. The state representatives observed that there was an issue of definition of torture, and persons who had been found guilty in case of Khalafyan were punished for abuse of official authority, and, therefore, amnesty could apply to them.
The definition of “torture” is not formulated correctly from the legal point of view. What was said about the definition of “torture” in the RA legislation?
Since 2000, the Committee has pointed out that the RA Criminal Code should contain definition of “torture” as legally defined crime in accordance with the UN Convention Against Torture. Only after 12 years, the state developed a draft on changing the definition. It is just a first step in the long path toward legislation. Our state has many things to do that responsibilities provided in the UN Convention against Torture be implemented.
What shall happen after the 48th session of the UN Committee Against Torture?
The Committee Against Torture will come up with conclusions on the basis of numerous materials and send its observations and recommendations to the state. It is possible that they will include the issue of effective investigation of reported torture.