Legal & Human Rights Developments in Armenia A Conversation with Ruben Melikyan
Ruben Melikyan was formerly Artsakh’s Human Rights Ombudsman, and prior to that he was rector of the Justice Academy of Armenia. In 2019, Melikyan co-founded and currently leads the “Path of Law” NGO. Իրավական ուղի in Armenian.
Episode 117 | Recorded on Thursday, February 3, 2022
Early in December 2021 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued urgent decisions in the case that was brought to it by Armenia. The decisions ordered both Armenia and Azerbaijan to “…take all necessary measures to prevent the incitement and promotion of racial hatred” against each other’s nationals. Additionally, the decision said that Azerbaijan must protect from violence and harm “all persons captured in relation to the 2020 conflict who remain in detention” and must “prevent and punish acts of vandalism and desecration affecting Armenian cultural heritage”.
Armenia claims that Azerbaijan violated the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (aka CERD), because destruction of national heritage is a form of racial discrimination. Did the ICJ’s decisions take this point into account?
What are your thoughts about ECHR’s ruling that Armenia violated Pashinyan freedom of “freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and to liberty and security” stemming from the March 1 case.
On January 14 Turkish and Armenian special representatives met in Moscow for the first Turkish-Armenian Normalization discussions. Parliament vice-speaker Ruben Rubinyan met with Turkish diplomat Serdar Kılıç, then all sides made positive comments and said they wanted to continue towards comprehensive relations, and world powers put out statements commending the discussions.
In April 2021, Pashinyan, in one of his speeches disclosed that he wants to change the constitution to a presidential system. He made that part of his party’s platform in the June 2021 elections. Now, it seems that the parliament has launched that process by creating a committee to develop recommendations for changes to the constitution.
Just a few days ago we talked with political analyst Suren Sargsyan who has discovered archival documents that suggest that since the early 1990’s, Turkey has demanded that Armenia drop the Armenian cause, recognize Turkey’s borders and remove all language or claims to Western Armenia. To support this, they want Armenia to change its Declaration of Independence and its Constitution to drop all references to the Armenian Cause.
Since 2016 Dr. Arman Tatoyan has been Armenia’s Ombudsman, its Human Rights Defender. His term in office expires this month, in February.
Tatoyan is highly popular in both Armenia and the Diaspora, yet there has been friction with the Pashinyan administration. Last week the Civil Contract party proposed and voted in first deputy justice minister Kristine Grigoryan as the incoming ombudsman.
Ruben, you are a former Ombudsman of Artsakh, so you are definitely an expert voice on this role!
Since the 44-day war ended in November 2020, the domestic politics of Armenia have been very unstable. Throughout 2021, opposition figures were harassed, jailed, and threatened with unending lawsuits. And we’ve seen some shady behind-the-scenes deals with government-associated entities that seem to be intended to strike at the opposition leaders’ financial resources. For example: the non-transparent deal for the Zangezur Copper Molybdenum Combine.
While these degradations in the norms of democracy in Armenia were noted by international NGOs like Freedom House and Human Rights Watch, as a whole they don’t seem to have put a major dent in Armenia’s reputation with the West. Just last week, the PACE voted for a resolution praising Armenia for making “marked progress in democratic development since 2018”. This was particularly scandalous because it ignored the opposition’s vocal complaints about the issue of the harassment and jailing of pro-opposition figures; and it ignored the European Ombudsman Institute’s (EOI) statement slamming Armenian Public TV, and the Armenian government, for “…pursuing a long-term policy of blocking the broadcasting of the Human Rights Defender.”
The most recent of the opposition issues we just described, started a week ago when Pashinyan’s government initiated legal action to arrest a judge in Syunik, Boris Bakhshyan, after he let a jailed oppositionist, Ashot Minasyan, or Ashot Yerkat as he’s known colloquially, out on bail. Armenia’s prosecutor general Artur Davtyan would not say what the charges are against Bakhshyan, because of some need for “secrecy”. Bakhshyan has claimed that the legal action against him is harassment and retribution for allowing an oppositionist out of jail.
One of the most worrisome developments for us is the rapid introduction of new freedom-limiting legislation (Article 137.1), that appears to be enforced by the regime selectively.
For instance, recently, through your Facebook post I learned that a criminal case was opened against an individual who shared content from ArmComedy (which is a satirical show) on their own Facebook profile, for severely insulting the Prime Minister. The law criminalizing such behavior was introduced last year.
That concludes this Conversations On Groong episode**. **As always we invite your feedback, Thanks to Laura Osborn for the music on our podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe to us on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.
Hovik Manucharyan is an information security engineer who moved from Seattle to Armenia in 2022. He co-founded the ANN/Groong podcast in 2020 and has been a contributor to Groong News since the late 1990s.
Asbed is founder of Groong and co-founder of the ANN/Groong podcast.