Armenian authorities must take steps to protect human rights defenders, who are often physically attacked, harassed or stigmatized as they try to carry out their work in the Caucasus nation, an independent United Nations expert said today.
Margaret Sekaggya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, also voiced concern about restraints on freedom of assembly in Armenia as she wrapped up a five-day fact-finding visit – the first visit to the country by a UN human rights envoy since 2000.
“I am worried by documented cases of ongoing violence, assaults, intimidation, harassment and stigmatization of defenders, in particular journalists,” she said in a statement issued in Yerevan, the capital.
“These cases would seem to illustrate an apparent culture of impunity in Armenia which impinges upon the work of human rights defenders. This impunity appears to be closely related to the deep-rooted problems within the police system as well as with the shortcomings of the justice system.”
She recommended that the Government implement a comprehensive reform of the police service, immediately take steps to tackle the problems in the justice system and set out an anti-corruption strategy for government.
Ms. Sekaggya, who met Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan during her visit, urged Armenian authorities to “undertake prompt, thorough and transparent investigations of all human rights violations, in particular attacks against journalists, in order to create a safe and enabling environment in which human rights defenders can carry out their activities.”
She also called on Mr. Sargsyan to publicly acknowledge the important role that human rights defenders play in a pluralistic and democratic society.
Human rights defenders and civil society groups should be consulted and included in decision-making processes, Ms. Sekaggya said, adding the specific needs of women defenders and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender defenders must also be addressed.
In addition the Special Rapporteur spoke out against what she described as “significant constraints” on freedom of assembly within Armenia, nothing that the right to peaceful, open and public demonstrations should be available to all.
“I also add my voice to those who have already expressed serious concerns about the amendments to the Law on Television and Radio. If signed into law by the President of Armenia, these amendments will further restrict and seriously hamper the plurality of voices and opinions available to Armenian society.”
Ms. Sekaggya serves in an independent and unpaid capacity and reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Her full report on the visit to Armenia will be presented to the Council in March next year.