Photo by hra.am
On June 27, 2013 the Conference on “Refraining from Torture and the Right to Rehabilitation-2013” devoted to the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture took place.
The event was organized jointly by the Armenian Human Rights Defender’s Office, “Civil Society Institute” (CSI) NGO and “Foundation against Violation of Law” (FAVL) NGO as a part of series of the events to mark the United Nations’ International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
“The practice of torture established in our country since the first years of Soviet era cannot be overcome by a mere statement of the Head of Police or by convicting few police officers. We expect serious systemic approach of the State in order to allow for all relevant agencies to have a clear list of actions aiming at combating and stopping the practice of torture. We have presented our recommendations for such Action Plan and we stand ready to discuss them with all relevant state agencies if needed”, told CSI President Arman Danielyan in his opening speech.
The representative of the Armenian Human Rights Defender’s Office Genya Petrosyan informed that in July 2013 the Ombudsman will present the Interim Report of the National Preventive Mechanism and will report on 133 visits in the closed and semi closed institutions carried out in the first quarter of 2013 jointly by the Ombudsman’s staff and a number of NGOs.
The visits were carried out in penitentiary institutions, psychiatric institutions, detention places, child institutions, military units and others.
President of the NGO “Foundation Against Violation of Law” Mikael Aramyan stressed out that due to the unclear legal definition of “torture” there is no statistical data available on how many people in Armenia were subjected to torture and how many perpetrators were punished.
“We should keep in mind that not only torture is a criminally prosecuted conduct but also a torture victim has the right to rehabilitation and it is the inalienable right. For that reason we should not only prevent torture but also help the victim of torture to receive redress and rehabilitation”, told Mr. Aramyan.
Recommendations on torture prevention
CSI lawyer Tatevik Gharibyan presented the recommendations which were officially submitted to the relevant state agencies, such as the Armenian Police, the Office of the Prosecutor General of Armenia, the Court of Cassation of Armenia, the Special Investigation Service of Armenia, the Armenian National Assembly and the Ministry of Justice of Armenia during the picketing organized the day before.
The NGOs recommend amending the Armenian Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code to bring the definition of torture in compliance with the UN Convention.
The Prosecutor of Shengavit Administrative District of Yerevan Artur Davtyan while providing the feedback regarding the observation of the lawyer about incompliance of “torture” definition enshrined in Article 119 of the Armenian Criminal Code to the definition envisaged by the UN Convention, said that although Article 119 is entitled “Torture”, it has nothing to do with the torture definition under the UN Convention. It covers ill-treatment but does not imply torture perpetrated by the public authority with the certain purpose.
Hence, the prosecutor considered wrong and formal to amend Article 119 and bring it into compliance with the torture definition under the UN Convention.
“We do not have a separate legal provisionin terms of torture definition under the UN Convention. Such conduct is regulated by other different articles”, told Artur Davtyan.
According to the statistics presented by the Deputy Head of the Special Investigation Service Armen Nadiryan, in 2012 case materials on 43 cases were prepared on the allegations of violance used by public officials, in particular police officers. However, only two criminal cases were instituted, one of which has been terminated and the other case (against two operative police officers) has been transferred to the court and now is at the stage of court proceedings. One of the episodes of this case was initially separated and currently is under pre-trial investigation.
“While last year there were 43 files prepared on such allegations, as of the beginning of this year we already have almost the same number of cases, there are 41 allegations at the moment. 3 criminal cases have been instituted and pre-trial investigation is in progress”, told Mr. Nadiryan.
While answering the question posed by CSI lawyer Anna Melikyan on how many cases were instituted on allegations of forcibly extracting testimonies (under Article 341 “Forcing testimony” of the Armenian Criminal Code) within the last two years, the Deputy Head of SIS told that no criminal case has been instituted under this article in the past two years. “As far as I know, last time the charges under this article were brought either in 2008 or 2009”.
Definition of torture is perceived differently
The results of the public opinion survey on awareness of the population about torture ordered by CSI were presented at the conference.
The survey has been conducted by phone and according to the results, a significant part of the society has a wrong understanding of torture.
In response to the question “Have you heard about torture practice while in police custody”, 49,9% of the respondents answered in the affirmative whereas 51, 2 % of the respondents heard about torture practice in penitentiary institutions.
The latter data raised discontent of the Criminal Executive Department representative who participated at the event. “There is no criminal case instituted in the recent years on allegations of torture in penitentiary institutions. What is the added value of the survey if we do not have a precedent”, he said.
CSI President Arman Danielyan noted that the mere fact that no criminal case was instituted does not mean that torture is impossible in a penitentiary institution. “I believe that this survey should be helpful and interesting for you at least to reflect on why the society has such a perception about the penitentiary system”, added Arman Danielyan.
Another employee of the Criminal-Executive Department, Gayane Hovakimyan , stressed that the survey results raise concerns and they show that there are certain issues and they should take steps to change the existing stereotype.
The event is wrapped up but the organizers assure that the fight against torture will be continued until the complete elimination of torture in Armenia.
The conference “Refraining from Torture and the Right to Rehabilitation-2013” was funded jointly by the European Union and Norwegian Helsinki Committee.