Point of View

Human rights in Armenia in 2013: torture and ill-treatment.


Photo by PhotoLur

During 2013 “Civil Society Institute” NGO focused its attention on the conditions of detention of convicted persons and the issue of bringing torturers to criminal responsibility. 

In July, 2013, the Human Rights Defender of Armenia in the framework of the National Preventive Mechanism published the midterm Report on the conditions of detention in penitentiary institutions (PI) of Armenia and rights of convicted persons.

According to the Report, the problem of overcrowding of penitentiary institutions continues to be the biggest one in the field. The Report mentions that under current conditions the service by the inmates of their term takes form of degrading punishment, which seriously impedes correction and rehabilitation of person. In addition significant reduction in personal space boundaries provokes the increase in outbursts of violence and aggression. The Defender also mentioned that the system may collapse, since such factors as shortcomings of the judiciary, of the system of the revision of punishment and social apathy are added to the existing bad conditions of detention.

According to the Report the problem of overpopulation is common to almost every penitentiary of Armenia, however “Noubarashen” PI stands out among the rest for its most severe conditions of detention. Taking into account the ECtHR’s case law, The Human Rights Defender equated these conditions to inhuman and degrading treatment. “Noubarashen” facility has a capacity of 840 inmates but according to the current monitoring data 1184 convicts are registered there. The 25 square meter cells are inhabited by 17 persons, whereas the number of beds is limited to 10-12 and inmates are forced to take turns sleeping. It is noteworthy that even in “Noubarashen” PI with such harsh conditions of detention the expert commission of the Office of the Human Rights Defender registered a number of cells with lesser number of convicts, among whom were crime bosses, informal prison leaders, ex state officials.

Notwithstanding numerous statements of Vladimir Vardanyan, the Head of Police of the Republic of Armenia, that violence and torture are excluded from police practice, in 2013 the instances of torture and ill-treatment in police system were still registered.

According to the opinion of Arman Danielyan, the President of the “Civil Society Institute” and a member of the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, Armenian policeman tortures, as he is not capable to use other means to solve a crime.

Arman Danielyan is sure that the torture practices blocks professional growth of police stuff, since there is no need to be a professional law-abiding police officer when torture is the fastest and most productive way to investigate and solve more crimes; and it is not clear from these “solved” crimes what is the percentage of the cases which are truly solved.

The practices of torture also impede the proper functioning of judicial system. Even when accused persons state at court that self-incriminatory evidence given at the stage of pretrial investigation was obtained through torture, in most of the cases courts without proper investigation do not consider them to be reliable, treat them as a manoeuvre to avoid responsibility and base the verdict on the initial self-incriminatory evidence. Such approach thickens the atmosphere of impunity in the police system.

It must be noted, nevertheless, that in 2013 there was registered a minor positive development in the context of bringing torturers to responsibility and punishment. In 2013 there was a court decision based on the established fact of torture. I am referring to the case of Khachik Bakhbudaryan and Artak Barseghyan, two torturers of Robert Hovsepyan. On October 11, 2013, after several months of court proceedings the Court of General Jurisdiction of Kentron and Nork-Marash administrative districts chaired by Judge Mnatsakan Martirosyan sentenced the two policemen from the Central Police Department of Yerevan city, Artak Barseghyan and Khachik Bakhbudaryan, to 3 years in prison for violence committed with the aim of extracting self-incriminatory confession. They were charged with the offences provided in Article 309(2) of the Armenian Criminal Code, i.e. exceeding official authority committed with use of violence and Article 314 - Official Forgery.

However, the excitement of the anti-torture militants didn’t last long, since the court applied recent amnesty decision to the torturers and they were released from the courtroom. In relation to that CSI issued a statement and reminded Armenian authorities that according to the ECtHR’s position it is unacceptable to include torturers into amnesties. Despite this, not taking into account that it was a clear violation of the principles established by ECtHR’s case law the Office of Prosecutor General of Armenia didn’t even appealed against this decision, considering it to be reasoned and lawful. Meanwhile such practice also contributes to the strengthening of the atmosphere of impunity.

It can be marked as a positive development in the context of bringing to responsibility for torture that ECtHR in its February 1, 2013 final decision ruled in favor of the applicant in Grisha Virabyan vs. Armenia complaint and registered several violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court established the fact, that Mr. Virabyan was tortured, unlawfully deprived of liberty and that in relation to him the principle of presumption of innocence was violated. By this decision ECtHR declared that Armenia violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights in both material and procedural aspects and obliged Armenia to pay Mr. Virabyan 31.000 EUR. Major part of this sum is compensation for moral harm.

In April 2013 the appointment of Ashot Karapetyan, the Head of the Department of Criminal Investigation, to the position of the Head of the Police of Yerevan made quite a stir in the context of the fight against torture. Not just once the latter’s name came up while on the subject of the beatings and violence occurred in police system. Moreover, in Grisha Virabyan vs. Armenia case the A.K. initials used to denote the policeman who tortured the applicant were identical to Ashot Karapetyan’s initials. This circumstance as well as Mr. Virabyan’s direct accusations against Ashot Karapetyan give rise to certain concerns…

On November 27, 2013, Ashot Karapetyan’s name was also mentioned at the hearing of the Court of General Jurisdiction of Shirak region. During the court proceedings Harutyun Sargsyan stated that Ashot Karapetyan, the Head of the Police of Yerevan, and Karen Babakekhyan, the Head of Police of Shirak region, subjected him to torture and degrading treatment and told the court how they beat him. Only after a long fight and in consequence of appeals Lusine Sahakyan, the lawyer of Harutyun Sargsyan, reached certain results and a criminal case on the basis of Mr. Sargsyan’s statement about beatings was opened.

In 2013 there were no steps undertaken towards the harmonization of the definition of torture given by the Armenian Criminal Code with the requirements of the UN Convention against Torture. Armenia has joined the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment as far back as 1993. It’s been 20 years that Article 119 of the Armenian Criminal code providing elements of crime of torture has been not in line with the elements provided in Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture.

The criminal conduct envisaged by the UN Convention is criminalized in Armenia in a very fragmented way and is being only partially reflected in a number of the articles of the Armenian Criminal Code, as, for instance, in Articles 309(2) and 341.

The Armenian Criminal Code is criminalizing torture only in the cases of coercing by mean of torture to make testimony or desired conclusion in the course of criminal proceedings thus leaving out all the other possible cases of torture in the meaning of the UN Convention committed with a special intent by a public official or with his/her consent/acquiescence. This includes torture in penitentiaries, in army, during public gatherings (for instance, incidents between a policemen and a protester) etc.

Source www.hra.am