Point of View

Human Rights in Armenia 2012: right to property, freedom of speech and environmental issues

28.12.2012

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There is no progress made in the protection of the right to property

Although the number of victims of expropriation of property for the state needs has not increased in the past year, no progress was made in the protection of the right to property through 2012. “No expropriation decisions have been made as there are no areas for expropriation left in the down town of Yerevan”, says Sedrak Baghdasaryan, Chairman of the NGO “Victims of State Needs”.

“As far as the law on “Expropriation of property for public and state needs ” is currently in force and the RA Government supports this approach, the human rights protection in the context of property rights will remain as poor as it is now”, he believes.

So far the European Court on Human Rights has issued 10 judgments against Armenia on the violation of the right to property and obliged Armenia to pay 600 000 USD of compensation to the RA citizens, and 13 cases are pending the verdict.

Baghdasaryan says that the Government is not only inactive in preventing further decisions against Armenia but also provides the ECHR with “false information”. The Government offered reconciliation to three families which applied to the European Court and pledged to provide them with apartments in compensation. The citizens found out that these apartments were sold out to several people simultaneously. Months have passed but the government did not take actions.

The owners of Kond and Firdusi districts whose property was expropriated for the state needs are waiting for several years for their apartments to be built.

Baghdasaryan believes it is necessary to make changes to the RA law “On expropriation for public and state needs” adopted in 2006 and notes that the state neither satisfies public needs nor protects rights of the owners while expropriating the property.

Violations against journalists decreased but the media is not free yet

There were positive changes in the field of freedom of speech in 2012, believes Chairman of the Committee on Protection of the Freedom of Speech and Expression Ashot Melikyan.

“Among positive trends it has to be mentioned a slight increase of pluralism in TV broadcast after changes in political situation followed the parliamentary elections, particularly in the broadcast of “Yerkir Media” “Kentron” TV companies”, says Ashot Melikyan.

According to him, another positive change is allocation of broadcasting time for “A1 plus” in the broadcast of Armnews. “However we believe that 20 minutes on air is not a solution of “A1 plus” issue. We believe it is rather a political step to show the acting authorities are more tolerant towards “A1 plus” than the previous.”

2012 was the year of elections: the Parliamentary Elections were held in May and Local Self Government Bodies’ Elections were held in September. Melikyan notes that compared to the elections held in previous years the situation has been improved. “We have to admit that there is a noticeable difference between the conditions of the elections in this and past years. There are also differences between the election and non-election quarters of the year: within the election period the situation was tense and there were unpleasant incidents. We have recorded 4 cases of physical violence against journalists”, he adds.

Melikyan notes that in the recent years in Armenia there is a trend of decrease of incidents involving physical violence against journalists but there are concerns regarding the judicial proceedings against media outlets on the ground of insult and libel.

According to the data of the Committee on Protection of the Freedom of Speech and Expression, 68 suits were lodged with charges of libel and insult since 2010, out of which 15 were lodged in 2012.

“2011 was unprecedented from the perspective of conducted judicial proceedings. The number of cases decreased in 2012 but we believe the situation yet raises concerns”, notes the media expert.

In Melikyan’s opinion, media outlets should also learn lessons: “Not always these suits are ill grounded. There are cases when the media outlets exceed the bounds of legislation and journalist ethics. Journalist expressions should be well-founded. The freedom of speech is the responsibility and professionalism. Sometimes it is confused with dissolution”, he adds.

In the outset of the year a draft law “On the Legal Regime of the State of Emergency” was adopted. Media and range of NGOs believe it may restrict the freedom of speech. “Time will show to what extent the provisions will be applied and what consequences will follow. However, it is obvious that any chance is used to create obstacles for the media”, says Melikyan and brings an example of March 1, 2008. “In the decree issued by the RA President the “censorship” was not mentioned but a preliminary censorship was expressly applied and all laws and rights were violated in this realm. Therefore, the concerns are not groundless.”

By the suggestion of the Yerevan press-club, Internews and Committee for Protection of the Freedom of Speech and Expression in 2012 a new draft law On Radio and TV has been circulated. The draft is yet under discussion of different state bodies.

“The draft implies liberation of the field. It provides TV audience with the availability of various channels and more favorable business conditions. The public will benefit from these changes”, believes the Chairman of the Committee on Protection of the Freedom of Speech and Expression.

Although there are some positive trends, according to the evaluation of the international structures the Armenian media remains among not free. According to Ashot Melikyan, the reason is influence of political powers on the Armenian media.

“Media is divided into various political camps and serves to the interests of certain political power. Actually it is too early to talk about the 4th power, institution of independent media. Political sponsorship and economic dependency destroyed media business particularly in the field of printed media and those newspapers which are free or do not have a political sponsor cannot survive in the given market conditions”, says the media expert.

We need laws protecting the environment instead of those directed against the nature

One of the essential achievements in the field of environmental rights in 2012 is the mobilization of the society, ecological movements and creation of civil initiatives. “Definitely the resource is not sufficient for solution of environmental issues in Armenia but it is effective”, says Inga Zarafyan, Chairwoman of “Ecolur” information NGO.

According to her, the authorities are trying to turn the dialogue with the society into imitation and if the environmentalists do not support the citizens, their demands are often ignored.

Activation of civil initiatives, according to the environmentalist, is not accidental. The society understood that it was absolutely unacceptable to have that many open mines and tailing dumps on the small territory of Armenia.

Zarafyan is concerned that mining projects are approved in a hurry. “For instance, in December 2012 10 projects were presented for expertise, three public hearings were appointed for one day. It is a big game. The aim is to deprive the society of a possibility to get familiarized with the projects in order to prevent public participation to the hearings”, she says.

“Ecolur” receives alarms on the new actions against the nature. “There is an alarm that in Hrazdan they want to approve the Tezhsar project which has a number of risks. Residents of Meghradzor community asked us to provide them with expert support to help them understand the consequences and impact of cyanide production”, notes the Chairwoman of the organization.

Inga Zarafyan considers the situation with rivers of Armenia as deplorable. According to the data at her disposal, there is a permission for construction of 136 small hydroelectric power plants and it is planned to increase this number up to 300. The environmentalist says that as a result of construction of each hydroelectric power plant destroys the ecosystem of a river and there is no supervision over the further activities. “We have found out through the inquiry that the State Environmental Inspection never checked for example whether the transmissivity of a hydroelectric power plant is in the limits of licensed bounds or not”.

There is no law banning construction of several hydroelectric power plants on one river. “It is planned to build 9 small hydroelectric power plants on the Meghry River. Such rivers would simply disappear with ecosystem and people who live there”, believes Zarafyan.

Despite the hot struggle of 20 Sevan communities and environmental organizations, 320 million cubic meters of water was let out this year from Sevan Lake. Environmental organizations applied to the National Assembly with demand to organize public discussions regarding the issue but it was dismissed. Afterwards the RA Human Rights Defender organized a discussion and announced that it was a violation of the rights of the society.

Inga Zarafyan emphasizes the importance of legislative changes for solution of ecological issues. She believes the laws are even worse than in Africa and are adapted to the mining business interests.

“The environmental legislation should be directed to the protection of the environment and not against the nature. We need a political will which would restrain the greediness of the ruling elite. We urgently need to adopt the codes on subsoil, water and forests”, proposes Inga Zarafyan.

According to the environmentalist, the Code “On subsoil” in force from 2012 is adopted illegally and the will of society was disregarded. “Now they refer to this illegal law while doing any step. The Code should be immediately amended and it is necessary to decide what should be maintained.”

It has to be mentioned that according to the Code on Subsoil, the notion “waste” was substituted by the notion ”dumps”, which is in favor of mining companies because they were totally exempt from the obligation to pay environmental taxes for the wastes harmful for the nature. The payment for the use of natural resources introduced by the law did not increase the tax burden over the mining companies. It appears that the new law is beneficial for the mining companies while the public will only “gain” environmental problems.

By Haykuhi Barseghyan

Source www.hra.am