HRW: Armenia: Investigate Abuses in Political Crackdown

Human Rights Watch: Human Rights News

Armenia: Investigate Abuses in Political Crackdown

Hundreds of Opposition Members Detained; Protests Put Down by Police

(New York, May 4, 2004) – Armenian authorities must investigate abuses
committed in the government’s recent crackdown against the political
opposition, Human Rights Watch today said in a briefing paper that provided
new details on the mass arrest and police violence against opposition

On Wednesday, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE)
held an urgent debate on Armenia, calling on the government to investigate
abuses and to create “fair conditions for the media,” and warned the
government that if no progress on this by September, the PACE may
“reconsider the credentials of the Armenian delegation.” PACE also called on
the opposition to work within the country’s constitutional framework.

In early April, Armenia’s political opposition united in mass peaceful
protests to force a “referendum of confidence” on President Robert Kocharian
and to call for his resignation. The government responded with mass arrests,
violent dispersals of demonstrations, and raids on opposition party
headquarters. Hundreds were detained, many for up to 15 days, and some were
tortured or ill-treated in custody.

“The Armenian government is repeating the same sorts of abuses that called
into question the legitimacy of last year’s election and sparked the
protests in the first place,” said Rachel Denber, acting executive director
of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division. “The cycle of
repression must end.”

Excessive police force, particularly at a nonviolent opposition rally on the
night of April 12, caused dozens of injuries among demonstrators. The Human
Right Watch briefing paper, based on an investigation in Armenia in
mid-April, documents this violence and other abuses. Human Rights Watch
found that some of the worst injuries at that rally were caused by stun
grenades, which inflicted deep wounds in many protesters. Police also beat
journalists and confiscated their cameras.

The opposition protests derived from the government’s failure to redress the
deeply flawed 2003 presidential election won by Kocharian, the incumbent. At
that time, the authorities detained about 250 opposition activists and
supporters in an attempt to intimidate and disable the opposition in advance
of the vote. The Armenian Constitutional Court subsequently recommended that
the government hold a referendum of confidence. The government rejected the
recommendation, while the opposition insisted that the referendum be held.

In its report on the 2003 presidential election, the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) found the vote to be “marred by
serious irregularities,” owing to “a lack of sufficient political
determination by the authorities to ensure a fair and honest process.”

“Armenia has to address the underlying causes of the opposition’s
demonstrations,” said Denber. “A first step would be to implement the
recommendations made by the OSCE following the 2003 elections.”

Human Rights Watch also called on the Armenian government to investigate the
excessive use of police force on the night of April 12, and to cease the use
of stun grenades and electric-shock equipment for the control of nonviolent
public demonstrations.

Armenia’s international partners – including the European Union, the United
States government, the OSCE and the Council of Europe – should closely
monitor the situation and condemn any new abuses that occur, Human Rights
Watch said. In particular, the United States and the European Union should
closely monitor any security-related funding, particularly for crowd-control
equipment, to ensure that it does not fuel human rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch urged the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers to
put the ongoing crisis in Armenia on the agenda of its upcoming ministerial
meeting and to call on the Armenian government to take urgent measures to
comply with its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS