NHC concerned with attacks against partner human rights organisation
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.
HCAV is one of few Armenian human rights organisations based outside of the capital Yerevan. The organization and its head, Artur Sakunts, is known and respected for their human rights work, particularly in regard to the conditions in the army and other closed institutions. The incident on 16 April was traumatic for the young staff of the organization. – The actions of the crowd and the police served to intimidate the activists and volunteers few weeks before they were to embark on monitoring of the parliamentary elections on 6 May, says Lene Wetteland, Armenia advisor in the NHC, who visited HCAV in May. –Such working conditions for a respected human rights organization are not acceptable in a state that strives to make the impression of democracy.
Armenia and Azerbaijan went through a tragic war in the early 1990s, and are at the moment bound by a cease-fire signed in 1994. However, the territories of Nagorno Karabakh and surrounding territories remain under Armenian control, and there is still shooting and unrest between the countries’ forces stationed at the border. Many attempts to address the hostile relations between the two countries have failed, and the tension is high both on a government and population level. From time to time there are attempts to encourage understanding and cultural exchange, but in a tense situation this subject must be addressed with caution.
The Caucasus Centre of Peace Making Initiatives is not known for addressing the subject with caution, rather the opposite, but the HCAV considers the freedoms of assembly and of expression principles that are fundamental also for controversial opinions. The challenge is that the Armenian authorities do not seem to share this fundamental principle, and rather encourage and protect certain demonstrations whilst creating obstacles for others.
As part of a longer trend in Armenia, no premises were provided for the non-governmental movie screening, and the HCAV offered their premises. However, a large angry crowd soon gathered outside, accompanied by police servicemen who did not respond to requests for assistance from Mr Sakunts. As a result, eggs were thrown at the offices and associates, and two stones were thrown through the window, hitting the leg of one staff member. Police officers did not intervene, and the staff members felt their security was not being protected. One woman was later charged with providing the two stones and fined 40 000 AMD (100 USD). However, a group of young men who participated in the crowd gathered money to pay her fine, and also gave flowers to the woman.
The NHC has joined several international and regional human rights organisations in submitting a letter to Armenian authorities, urging proper investigation of the events in Vanadzor and the similar events in Gyumri, and respect for the work of human rights defenders in Armenia.