Amnesty International Annual Report 2004: Armenia



Head of state: Robert Kocharian
Head of government Andranik Markarian
Death penalty: abolitionist for ordinary crimes
UN Women’s Convention: ratified
Optional Protocol to UN Women’s Convention: not signed

Covering events from January – December 2003

In line with its human rights commitments to the Council of Europe,
Armenia abolished capital punishment in peacetime. However, it failed
to meet its commitments to the Council of Europe on conscientious
objectors to compulsory military service, who continued to be
imprisoned. The authorities detained hundreds of protesters who took
part in peaceful opposition rallies to contest the outcome of the
presidential elections.


In March incumbent President Kocharian won presidential elections that
were marred by widespread voting irregularities, including ballot
box stuffing, and intimidation and violence towards independent and
opposition election monitors. Mass opposition rallies protested at
illegal election practices. Following international criticism, the
President acknowledged that the elections had not met international
standards and set up a commission of inquiry to investigate reported
irregularities. Nevertheless, parliamentary elections in May were
likewise flawed by reported ballot box stuffing and intimidation of
international observers. Parties that supported the President won a
large majority in parliament.

Administrative arrests

Some 100 protesters who participated in peaceful demonstrations after
the presidential elections were reportedly sentenced to short prison
terms after being convicted of disrupting public order. Reportedly
denied access to lawyers, they were sentenced in closed trials without
legal representation. In April the Armenian Constitutional Court
declared the arrests unlawful.

Prisoner of conscience Artur Sakunts, Chairman of the Vanadzor
branch of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly (HCA), was released from
prison on 25 March after serving a 10-day sentence. He was arrested
after he attempted to organize a public meeting on 15 March on the
findings of HCA election monitoring. He was tried the same day and
convicted of “disobeying the authorities” (Article 182 of the Armenian
Administrative Code). He was not permitted access to a lawyer before
or during his trial. His arrest and the firebombing of the Vanadzor
HCA office in the early hours of 14 March raised fears of a campaign
to prevent the HCA from carrying out legitimate human rights work.

Unfair trial concerns

In December Nairi Unanyan and five co-accused were sentenced to life
imprisonment by a court in Yerevan for their part in the October
1999 attack on the Armenian parliament in which eight deputies and
government officials, including Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian
and parliamentary Speaker Karen Demirchian, were killed. There were
concerns about the fairness of the trial and the widespread support
for imposing the death penalty in the case.

Proceedings in the case had been accompanied since the 1999 arrests
by concerns about due process and the detention conditions of those
detained in connection with the arrests. These included allegations of
torture and ill-treatment, difficulties in access to defence lawyers,
lack of access to families, and denial of access to independent
medical practitioners. Widespread public and political support
for the death penalty in this case had led to the Council of Europe
warning Armenia that it would face suspension from the organization
if any of the defendants were executed.

Death penalty

In May parliament adopted a new criminal code, which abolished the
death penalty in peacetime but contained a provision that could have
allowed use of the death penalty in the parliamentary shootings
trial. In July President Kocharian commuted all outstanding death
sentences to life in prison.

In September the newly elected parliament voted to abolish the death
penalty in peacetime and to ratify Protocol No. 6 to the European
Convention on Human Rights, one of the commitments Armenia undertook
when it joined the Council of Europe in 2001. However, in November
deputies voted unanimously to amend the new criminal code to deny the
right of parole to prisoners serving life sentences for grave crimes
including murder and assassination of a state or public figure. It was
widely believed that the amendment was intended to ensure that those
convicted in the parliamentary shootings case were never released.

Conscientious objection

Parliament adopted a law in December that provided for unarmed military
service of three years or alternative civilian service under the
Ministry of Defence for three and a half years – almost double the
length of ordinary military service.

Conscientious objectors continued to be sentenced to prison terms
despite Council of Europe requirements that all those imprisoned for
conscientious objection should be freed. By December, prison sentences
of between one and two years had been imposed on at least 27 men,
all Jehovah’s Witnesses, for conscientious objection. Five more had
been arrested and were awaiting trial. A further two had been released
on parole.