Human rights is an internationally discussed topic, with the issues spanning from free speech to the rights of detained suspects. International councils have long harbored an interest in building alliances to eradicate violations of human rights in as many nations as possible. Human rights in Armenia are of special interest now. In June 2017, a human rights defender, Artur Sakunts, received death threats.
Sakunts is the director of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor Office (HCA-Vanazdor). HCA-Vanazdor is a high-profile defender of human rights in Armenia. Sakunts received a highly specific death threat via Facebook, which illustrates that the issue of human rights is hotly debated in Armenia. The Armenian government’s record with respect to human rights is somewhat uneven. In 2008, the government pledged to combat violence against women. However, no legislation was passed since. For example, there is no law criminalizing domestic violence.
LGBTQ populations also do not have anti-discrimination protection or legal protection against hate speech. The lack of legislation makes it difficult for women and LGBTQ groups to find a legal solution to advocate for their rights. Peaceful protesters are sometimes met with excessive force and with ill treatment in custody.
Founding Parliament, a radical group opposed to the government, seized a police station in the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, killing a policeman and taking several others hostage on July 17, 2016. The gunmen eventually surrendered on July 31. Yet the seizure of the police station proved to be a catalyst for protest movement against the government.
In late July, peaceful protesters were showing their support for Founding Parliament in the same neighborhood of the seized police station. Without warning the protesters, police fired stun grenades into the crowd. The protesters sustained first and second-degree burns and fragmentation wounds. Other protesters were beaten with clubs.
Journalists covering the protest were warned by the police, but some journalists suffered the after-effects of stun grenades fired specifically at them. Protest leaders and participants were detained, with the authorities citing criminal charges leveled against them. Detainees were held up to 12 hours without documentation. Authorities relied primarily on police testimony to press criminal charges. Detainees were also denied access to lawyers and were not permitted to inform relatives about their detentions.
The explosive events of July 2016 demonstrate the palpable tensions between Armenian citizens and the government. Fortunately, groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch continue to report violations of human rights in Armenia. Generating awareness for human rights issues can pave a path towards finding legal, political and more permanent solutions for such human rights violations.
– Smriti Krishnan