Point of View

Human Rights in Armenia in 2012: Torture and Right to Fair Trial


No progress was registered in the struggle against torture

In Armenia no significant progress was registered in regard to struggle against torture. There are still many  instances of  torture, because perpetrators mainly are not adequately punished.  This conclusion was made by a member of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, President of Civil Society Institute, Arman Danielyan.

As he said, the danger of use of torture continues to be high at the police stations, as in Armenia the famous practice of extortion of evidence or testimony and using it as a basis for conviction is still widespread. 

“In our reality, even if a person declares in the court that he was tortured and denounces his testimonies, the evidence given by him under torture is still taken into account”, says Arman Danielyan. In his opinion, the situation will change when the courts in cases of such statements do not consider previous testimonies (announced as extorted under torture).

Larisa Alaverdyan, executive director of the NGO “Against Violation of Law” says that the number of instances of torture registered by their organization lead to conclusion that such a mode of action looks like administrative practice.

The RA Ombudsman also referred to the cases of torture and cruel treatment occurring in criminal executive institutions, army, police and other closed or semi-closed institutions of RA.

The  Ombudsman Office, which serves as  independent national preventive mechanism on torture, in its 2012 monitoring report, mentioned that during the group's monitoring visits numerous violations were registered, which have a continuous nature, and that the relevant bodies failed to take appropriate measures to react on the violations. Thus, in the police stations the rights of persons, invited or arrested, were violated in terms of the detention time. Cases of cruel or inhuman treatment by the police staff were registered, including psychological pressure, use of electric shockers, cruel beatings and other inhuman treatment.  In some cases, arrested people were denied the right to a legal counsel. There were complaints received from relatives of detained persons about violations regarding the time of notifying them  the arrest of their relatives.

On 26 June, 2012, on the International Day of Torture Victims, the Ombudsman Karen Andreasyan acknowledged that although according to the Law on National Preventive Mechanism he is responsible for prevention of torture, he was not able to fulfil this task due to lack of financial resources.

According to observation of Arman Danielyan, a member of the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, the other reason for f practice of torture is the atmosphere of impunity. “A policeman using torture knows that he will be not punished. Otherwise he would not torture. Only in critical cases the perpetrators are prosecuted. Recently there was a case when a number of policemen were arrested. Definitely, that was extraordinary, and still is a drop in the ocean”, says Arman Danielyan.

The UN expert mentions that there is a draft law in circulation regarding amendments to the RA Criminal Code, in which an attempt was made  to change the definition of 'torture' and bring it in compliance with the definition used in the UN Convention against Torture (CAT). The draft is in the National Assembly, and Mr Danielyan does not believe that it will be passed easily.

According to  CAT, torture is a physical or psychological violence against a person, applied by an official with a definite purpose to extort evidence, obtain information and other. According to the RA current law, torture is identified as an act of torment, not necessarily committed by an official, and not having a purpose to extort information.

“As a result, officials who have committed torture are convicted on the basis of another article- for abuse of their official power”, says Arman Danielyan.

The expert believes that prevention is the most effective method of fighting torture. “Legal mechanisms should be created in order that the courts do not accept confessions obtained through extorted testimonies, even in cases when acts of torture are not proved. In that instance it will become senseless to use torture”, he proposes. 

The right to fair trial continues to be frequently violated in Armenia

Failure to ensure the fair trial guarantees remain one of the the most serious issues in the RA judicial system. According to statistics of the European Court of Human Rights, 34 per cent of the considered complaints against Armenia relate to the Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), on violation of the right to fair trial.  In 2008-2011, the European Court made 13 decisions on violation of the right to fair trial.

According to Rouben Sahakyan, Chairman of the RA Bar Association, the right to fair trial in Armenia is mentioned only when they talk through mass media or in public speeches. However, he believes that 2012 was somewhat critical in that regard, and that the one-day strike of the lawyers brought about some results.

“The Court of Cassation, for example, unlike the previous years, in 2012, started to process a significant number of complaints. Several legislative drafts were elaborated, in which issues raised during the lawyers' strike were reflected”, says Rouben Sahakyan.

He does not see full implementation of the right to fair trial in near future, because the level of legal awareness of the vast majority of population is still low. “People are not aware of their basic rights, various organizations do not do enough to raise the level of legal awareness of the population, but it is very important. If you know your rights, in case of their violation, you can defend yourself, you know where to go to restore your rights”, concludes the chairman of the Bar Association.

In 2012 the ECHR made several decisions against Armenia regarding violation of the right to fair trial. On 6 November, 2012 the European Court decided that the RA Government violated the right of a lawyer Vahe Grigoryan to fair trial and has to pay a compensation of 2500 Euro. In 2005, criminal charges were brought against the lawyer, who was defending interests of the people, who were affected by obligatory disposal of their property. Vahe Grigoryan, who was illegally detained for about 6 months, states that the criminal case against him was made-up and connected to his professional activities as a lawyer.

A number of monitoring studies in this area demonstrates that today courts in Armenia practically depend on the Prosecutor's Office. Almost no acquittals are made, judges violate the principle of equality of arms, demonstrate obvious bias towards prosecutors. Statements made in the court about torture and inhuman treatment during the preliminary investigation are left without consideration and do not result in a proper investigation. Courts do not justify properly their decisions on the use of custodial measures and prolongation of detention as a preventive measure.

On 14 December, the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and its partner organization in Armenia Civil Society Institute (CSI) in cooperation with the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) sent a joint submission to the RA President, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, the Head of  Police and the Prosecutor General, in which they expressed their concerns regarding administration of justice in Armenia. 

FIDH, CSI and NHC in their assessment of the developments in the area of administration of justice, stated that there is an acute necessity for substantial reforms. It is emphasized in the submission that there are  shortcomings in the six key areas, including torture and cruel treatment, political prisoners, investigation of violence of events of March 2008, absence of independent judiciary, juvenile justice and the system of early parole of prisoners.

Gayane Arakelyan 

Source www.hra.am