Interview with the member of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, President of the Civil Society Institute NGO Arman Danielyan.
Armenia is one of the 25 states which are party to the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture for already 3 years. You were elected the expert of the SPT for 2010 - 2014 and presents Armenia. What will Armenia benefit?
By joining to the Optional Protocol to UN Convention against Torture Armenia has joined to the countries which declare that are ready to apply new method to fight torture. I would like to mention that I am not presenting Armenia in the SPT and I am not constrained by responsibilities in front of the state. I have been nominated from Armenia and was elected by the State Parties.
How the experience gained from various countries is useful for you as CSI President in fight against torture in Armenia?
Of course it is interesting to explore the practices in various countries and make comparisons because “torture” is a cultural phenomenon. In many cases it is manifested in the same way but the roots and purposes may be different.
What is the culture of torture in Armenia?
Certainly Armenia bears the Soviet culture and similar situation could be observed almost in all post-soviet states. I have visited Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine and they have the same culture there: torture is used in police to obtain testimony. Further, the testimony obtained through torture is accepted by the court and people are convicted based on their confessions. The atmosphere of impunity, race for crime reveal rates is everywhere in police system.
Does it mean that torture is used because this was a accepted in Soviet times or because there is no other mode of work for revealing crimes? Finally, what is the root cause of torture in your opinion?
The existence of torture hinders improvement of the professional skills in police system. There is no sense for the police officer to be a good professional as far as torture allows “revealing” more crimes in short period of time. It is unknown what part of the revealed crimes was really committed.
In this case, the professional police officer who is supposed to investigate the case properly, i.e. collect evidence, find witnesses, interrogate etc. will be able to reveal less crimes than the one whom Chief of the Police named “butcher and stupid”, the one who would bring people, would beat and force to confess into crimes the part of which they probably did not commit.
Recently Committee on Prevention of Torture visited Armenia. What was the CPT feedback if the visit results are known?
The results of the visit are not known yet because they prepare the report. It should be submitted to the Armenian Government which will provide its comments in response. I think that we will learn about the results of the visit next year.
This year UN SPT is planning to visit Armenia. What kind of visit is this?
This is going to be so called advisory visit on NPM. The purposes of the visit differ from those of European Committee on Prevention of Torture. UN SPT strives not to replicate the work of CPT and mostly seeks to increase capacity and effectiveness of NPMs.
The Armenian NPM is functioning attached to the Human Rights Defender’s Office. How would you as an expert evaluate the work of Armenian NPM and what should be done?
The most important issue that I see at the moment is that the state does not allocate funds to this mechanism while it has the obligations under the UN Convention against Torture.
The state fails to meet its obligations. I do not want to precipitate the situation but I am sure that the Subcommittee will point out this issue, the fact that the state has established the National Preventive Mechanism but fails to allocate funds for its functioning.
How the situation could be changed in order to eliminate the “culture” of torture remained form soviet era? What should be changed in Armenia in order to achieve progress?
Different mechanisms were applied in various countries in the fight against torture. In the Eastern Europe so called surgical method is common. It means that all police officers are dismissed and new people are hired (this was done in Georgia as well). The new police officers work based on new principles without repeating the old working style simply because they are not familiar with it.
The system we have today simply spoils all newly appointed officers because as soon as they involve in the system their experienced colleagues train them on how to work.
Is our system ready to follow the surgical method? Will it be effective?
The surgical method was applied and proved to be effective in other countries and I am not sure to what extent our authorities are ready for this kind of serious reforms.
It seems that there is an attempt to follow the evolutionary way. I do not know how effective it could be. At least the statements of the Chief of Police demonstrate that it is necessary to fight against torture, it should be eliminated etc.
Will the police officers who work in the system today be able to reveal crimes without use of torture? I doubt. Perhaps with time the self-purification process will start in the police and the police officers who will not be able to work, simply will be ejected from the system. Time will show. I am not very optimistic about this issue.
As a matter of fact, the most important is to create a proper environment in the police system. The police officer should perceive himself/herself rather as a defender of a citizen and not a representative of the repressive structure.
Unfortunately our police do not have such a perception. When someone appears in police, he/she immediately feels that the police system is aimed to punish regardless the reasons of why the latter appeared in police, whether he/ she is guilty or not. The whole capacity of the police is directed to punish people and I do not think that it has any positive impact on the image of police officer.
What is the experience of Western countries?
In Western countries or it is better to say in the countries with western culture the situation is quite different. For instance, I have visited New Zealand recently where the British model is in place.
The police officer here clearly understands its functions and acts based on that. On the other hand, the law provides the police officer with wide possibilities to implement its functions in the frame of its powers. While our legislation based on the presumption of culpability envisage very tight frames. At the same time, if we introduce the legislation f New Zealand to the police system of Armenia as it is now, it will lead to anarchy because the police officer does not understand its role in the society.
What powers exactly do you mean?
For instance, our legislation envisage that within 3 hours should be made a decision on arrest and within 72 hours after the arrest one should be transferred to the court to obtain a decision on preliminary detention. In New Zealand the law does not provide such terms. The law says that after the arrest one should be transferred to the court rapidly.
Everything is left at discretion of the police officer and the latter knows its function well which is to protect a person, to find the criminal and transfer to the court rapidly.
When we say that the law does not provide clearly what means “rapidly”, how many hours it means, the police officers say “it is very clear, the law says rapidly, it means we should do it as quick as possible-if I have arrested someone in the morning then I will take him/her to the court in the afternoon, if arrested in the evening, will take him/her to the court in the morning of the next day”. It is logical enough for them and there is no need to define terms. While if our police officer is not restricted by precise deadlines, he/she will keep a person in the detention facility for two months.
The statistics show that there is almost no case instituted on torture allegations. As CSI mentioned on numerous occasions, on one hand it happens because of the fear, on the other hand because definition of torture is not clear. Are there other reasons?
Sure, the gap in the legislation is essential because when the torture is not defined properly in the law there is a lack of guarantees regarding torture. However this is not the only problem. I am confident that even if the definition of torture is changed, the situation will not be changed due to serious problem- impunity.
Everyone one knows that even if they complain there will be no result and most likely they and their relatives will be subject to pressure with the aim to dismiss the complaint. When it fails to happen, the negotiations begin: dismiss your complaint and you will receive mild punishment or if you do not dismiss the complaint, you will get severe punishment under the charges brought against .
This is what happened in the case of Robert Hovsepyan. He submitted a complaint on torture allegation, insisted that has been tortured and brought the police officers to the court but then has been convicted to 7- year of imprisonment based on the charges brought up within the frames of the main case which is too severe for the charges brought against him despite the fact that the reliance of the evidence was under the question. The fact that Hovsepyan helped to reveal another crime has not been taken into consideration and it was not recognized as mitigation. The prosecutor demanded 7 years (in this case the maximum punishment envisaged was 8 years), the court decided 7 years. It is hard not to call it revenge.
CSI prioritizes the fight against torture. In what way the organization plans to continue its work in the realm?
There are several directions in our torture prevention work. Firstly, the legislative field should be reformed; definition of torture should be brought in compliance with the definition accepted in the world.
We plan to launch surveys aimed at understanding and detection of the root causes of torture and hot points.
We are trying to work on certain cases, seeking people who are ready to speak out the issue, supporting them and striving to lead the case to the logical end.
Do you see any progress in the fight against torture in Armenia?
There is a shift in torture prevention. Particularly after the appointment of the new Head of the Special Investigation Service certain revival is noticed. Some cases are investigated while in the past this agency failed the investigation of any case.
I do hope that the position of the Chief of Police concerning the police officers who use beatings that was presented to the public recently will be reflected in internal instructions. So let’s hope that that the fight against torture will start because if the police officer does not understand that torture is inadmissible, he/she should be punished. However I do hope that repressive methods will be replaced by others and elimination of torture will be ensured. The future police officers should have the possibility for high quality education starting from the Police Academy which will enable them to reveal crimes. They should become good professionals in order to reveal crimes without resorting to torture, repressive methods should not be maintained.
Interview by Mariam Sargsyan