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“Harassment and obstruction by state agents of the professional work of independent defence lawyers working on high-profile cases in Armenia should immediately come to an end", said Lene Wetteland, senior advisor at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “Together with other members of the Civic Solidarity Platform (CSP) we call on Armenian authorities to put an end to a worrying pattern of abuse and ensure that all lawyers can carry out their work without hindrance.”
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee was part of the EPDE mission to Armenia during the 2017 Parliamentary elections, working
together with Armenian partners from the Independent Observers Public Alliance and Citizen Observer.
- Unfortunately, despite certain technical improvements in legislation and procedures, the fundament for free and fair elections was absent also this time, said NHC's Armenia senior adviser Lene Wetteland. This is mainly due to widespread abuse of administrative resources and intimidation of voters in the period leading up to voting day, accompanied by severe violations of the secrecy of the vote in polling stations.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee has been engaged in the situation in Armenia since the late 1990s. We monitor the development of human rights and have observed several elections. Elections in Armenia in recent years have had major deficiencies and authorities stopped demonstrations after the presidential election in 2008 by violent means. We have also been particularly concerned about the conditions in Armenian prisons and psychiatric institutions.
The report, “Beaten, burnt and betrayed: Armenians awaiting accountability for police violence”, is published by International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and the Civic Solidarity Platform. It is based on conclusions from a fact finding mission to Yerevan in July and was launched at a press conference in Yerevan today. The report is now also available in Armenian. You can download the report in English and Armenian below.
The Draft Electoral Code of the Republic of Armenia was adopted by the National Assembly of Armenia in its third reading on
25 May 2016. - This is very disappointing, taking into consideration all the domestic and international organisations which
have criticized the proposed amendments, said Lene Wetteland, senior adviser for Armenia in the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
"In its current form it will significantly limit the effective monitoring of elections and referenda in Armenia, only 6 months after the referendum on constitutional amendments received substantial criticism and illustrated the need for such monitoring. We support the call for immediate amendments to the Draft Electoral Law published by Armenian organisations yesterday," Wetteland concluded.
Within the framework of the NHC-funded three-year program “Raising Effectiveness of Protection of Citizens’ Rights in Relations with the Police”, the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor has issued a report and video illustrating the relations between police and citizens of Armenia in 2015.
Since his arrest on 19 February, the well-known political activist Vardges Gaspari has been subject to torture and ill-treatment in the Nubarashen prison in Yerevan. He had initiated a hunger strike in order to be moved to a separate cell, but no response was given to his complaints by the prison administration. Information was only available as Gaspari was transported to a psychiatric hospital for a forensic examination on 24 February. Update: On 26 February he was released, but investigations into allegations of ill-treatment remains to be initiated.
Today the Norwegian Helsinki Committee sent a letter to Republic of Armenia General Prosecutor and Head of Investigative Committee to express our concern about the recent developments that endanger non-discrimination principle and protection of human rights in Armenia.
Final report of joint European Platform for Democratic Elections/Citizen Observer Initiative has been published, presenting all the findings of the more than 1000 civic observers monitoring the Constitutional amendment referendum in Armenia on 6 December 2015.
No political prisoners:
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee has launched a webpage with information and updates about the situation for the political prisoners in Europe.
In the period since Armenia’s disputed 6 December 2015 Constitutional Referendum, persecution, violence and threats against the regime’s opponents has intensified. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor strongly condemn the auhtorities' unlawful practices of the authorities. We require that they urgently abide by the legal framework Armenia is bound to as a member of the Council of Europe and as signatory to international human rights conventions.
– The poor quality of the 6 December 2015 constitutional referendum was unprecedented in the country. There were blatant violations of the electoral code and verbal and physical attacks on observers and journalists, said Lene Wetteland, senior advisor of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC). "We are critical both of the campaign, the contents of the amendments as well as of the conduct of the vote itself."
New NHC report:
The NHC has monitored developments in Armenia closely since the disputed presidential election in 2008. This fresh report provides an analysis of trends within civic activism since the unrest that resulted in 10 deaths on 1 March 2008 until the recent demonstrations against the Russia-led customs union. – The authorities’ reactions to civic engagement in Armenia over the last weeks is definitely a reason for concern, says Armenia advisor in the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Lene Wetteland. – Though Armenia has received praise for legal reforms and some positive developments in the EU rapprochement process, these recent actions should serve as a warning that these steps can easily be retracted, Wetteland says.
A new list of political prisoners in Armenia has just been published. The list now comprises of 12 names. These are political activists who have used the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech to express their discontent with the current government of Armenia.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered yesterday in Armenias capital Yerevan to protest against state regulators decision to raise electricity prices by 16 %. This morning the Armenian police forcefully dispersed the demonstrations, leaving 18 persons injured.
The NHC supports a letter sent yesterday to the Council of Europe and the OSCE urging them not to support proposed constitutional amendments that would strengthen the incumbent president's position in Armenia.
The “Coalition for Trust”, a three-year regional project funded by the European Commission and co-funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, started in late 2012 and works in all entities of the South Caucasus to restore confidence and build people-to-people contact by opening up new perspectives on conflict transformation. The initiative is implemented on the ground by local partner and associate organisations in the regions. NHC is working with the partners to develop and deliver a broad-ranging educational programme for close to 300 students, journalists and civic activists.
OSCE meeting in Warzaw:
NHC is active at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2014 which is currently taking place in Warsaw.
Over the last months, Armenian human rights activists have been increasingly subject to pressure and intimidation, and in many cases media is used actively to spread intolerance towards activists and the vulnerable groups they protect, in particular topics of LGBTI and gender. The NHC has responded to this development by joining local partners in an alternative report to the UPR on Armenia and an open statement addressing these issues.
In an open letter to Armenia's President Serzh Sargsyan sent today, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee highlights recommendations from the recent report on civic activism in Armenia and offers to discuss them in a meeting with the President in Yerevan later in June. The report examines developments within the Armenian civil society since the disputed presidential elections in 2008, and points to several issues that need to be addressed in order to counter the lack of trust in the Armenian society today.
In September, Armenia’s President Sargsyan decided to sign initial agreements with the Russian-led Customs Union on the eve of when he was expected to sign documents on an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Trade Agreement with the EU.
One year after the bombing of the DIY pub and violent counter demonstrators attacked a Diversity March in Yerevan, Armenia still suffers from widespread intolerance and discrimination of minorities. The legislation does not include hate crime with intent towards gender and sexual minorities, and the government fails to protect the rights of these citizens. Media is more often used as a tool to build up under prejudice and intolerance, and homophobic statements are frequently used by stakeholders to gain popularity.
Universal Periodic Review Armenia:
Together with the Civil Society Institute (CSI) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) the Norwegian Helsinki Committee have submitted a mid-term assessment (May 2010–December 2012) following recommendations by the United Nations Human Rights Council at Armenia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in May 2010.
Election Day in Armenia was characterized by reports of ballot stuffing, multiple voting and intimidation of voters, following
a campaign where the three main opposition parties decided not to nominate their presidential candidates. This is the conclusion
of a delegation from the European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE), consisting of four experts of the Norwegian Helsinki
Committee, Swedish International Liberal Centre SILC, Sweden, Association GOLOS, Russia and European Exchange, Germany to
the Presidential elections on 18 February in Armenia.
-Though there were several reports about fraud before and during Election Day, social media showed that many Armenians took this opportunity to state their opinion, says NHC’s Lene Wetteland, who was present in Armenia for the elections. - Many demonstrated contempt by voting for American celebrity Kim Kardashian; one ate his ballot, another returned the 5000 AMD bribe with a note that not everyone can be bought, and surprisingly many voted for the runner-up Raffi Hovhannisyan, who is now arranging rallies in towns all over Armenia.
Voting at the 2013 Presidential elections in Armenia is underway, following a month of low key campaigning. The ruling Republican party’s candidate and incumbent president Serge Sargsyan is expected to win the majority of the votes in an election where the three largest opposition parties in the Parliament did not advance or support any candidate. NHC's Lene Wetteland is observing the elections in Vanadzor.
NHC together with partner organisations Civil Society Institute and The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) call upon Armenian authorities to eliminate violations in the administration of justice and ensure the establishment of an independent judiciary and the rule of law. These steps are fundamental to the further democratic development of Armenia, and should be a prerequisite for any further engagement with the EU.
Job vacancy announcement:
We are currently seeking a highly qualified person to be the regional coordinator of the (EU-funded) program “Coalition for trust” in the South Caucasus. The aim of the program is to contribute to building knowledge and trust between people in a region marked by conflict and human rights violations. Activities include education and training, network building, advocacy and activism.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee participated in a picket in front of the Ukrainian Embassy in Oslo Monday, passing on a statement to Counsellor Vitalii Pantus. The statement comes as a reaction to the recent violent attacks on a peaceful demonstration organized by Ukrainian LGBTI organizations, where several activists were victims of violence. – We are concerned with the development in many European countries. It seems to be a trend of violent intolerance that is unacceptable in countries that are aspiring at rapprochement to Europe, hosting European Championships in Football, Olympic Games or applying for EU membership, says Secretary General Bjørn Engesland.
On 16 April 2012, the Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly Vanadzor, a partner organization of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, was subject to harassment by a large crowd on the eve of a movie screening. Police authorities did not protect the human rights defenders, and damage was made to the premises of the organization. Now, several international and regional organisations have sent a letter to the Armenian authorities, urging proper investigation of the events and protection of human rights defenders in Armenia.
(07/04-2008). Mens over tusen opposisjonelle ropte slagord mot han to kilometer unna, vart Serge Sargsyan innsett som president i Armenia i Operabygningen, omkransa av soldatar og politi.
Parliamentary elections on Sunday 6 May was the country’s first elections since the disputed 2008 Presidential elections that led to strong protests and eight persons being killed by security forces. – There were a few improvements from previous elections, but abuse of administrative resources and pressure on voters remained a serious problem, says Lene Wetteland, Advisor who observed Sunday’s election. – Authorities had promised that elections would be conducted according to international standards. But if you are told that your job depends on supporting the President’s party, you stop believing in such promises, she continues.
Elections in Armenia:
Presidential elections of 19 February 2008 and the subsequent unrest of 1 March, where 10 people lost their lives, and more than hundred were arrested or injured. In the campaign leading up to the elections, President Sargsyan has on several occasions stated the importance of free and fair elections. - It is of utmost importance that these promises are followed up by action, says Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. Norwegian Helsinki Committee's Lene Wetteland is in Armenia during the elections.
(07/03-2008) The Armenian government must adhere to international law and should invite international investigations into unrest and government response to it.
(25/02-2008) After five days of demonstrating on Liberty Square, some demonstrators have taken a further step to get attention. 11 men are now on a hunger strike.
(20/02-2008) Over the last two hours there has been a significant increase in violations under the Armenian presidential elections.
(19/02-2008) Proxies, voters and cameramen have been subject to beatings at various polling stations in Yerevan.
(18/02-2008) The main rivalling presidential candidates did not miss their last chance of campaigning this weekend before the elections on 19 February.