Press release March 12, 2021
Armenia: Authorities Must Protect Democratic Institutions and Civil Society
In response to the Armenian government’s legislative proposal to deprive the Human Rights Defender’s Office (HRDO) of its financial safeguards and a dramatic increase in harassment of civil society organizations (CSOs) by opponents of democratic reform in Armenia, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The Armenian authorities must ensure the unobstructed functioning of democratic and human rights institutions in the country, including civil society,” said Marc Behrendt, director for Europe & Eurasia at Freedom House. “In addition to a disinformation campaign to smear civil society as a whole launched by opponents of democratic reform, the government is attempting to cut the funding independence of the HRDO. These troubling developments will only exacerbate Armenia’s political crisis.”
In light of the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh and the current political crisis, it is more important than ever to preserve the ability of the HRDO and CSOs to raise awareness of the human rights violations committed during the conflict and call out restrictions on fundamental freedoms in the country. The Armenian authorities should support the HRDO and CSOs by maintaining active dialogue with them, upholding the rule of law, and holding the perpetrators of violence and hate speech to account.
The announcement on November 10 of the highly controversial nine-point ceasefire statement between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia on the cessation of hostilities in Nagorno Karabakh sparked a wave of demonstrations and political crises across Armenia. In addition to attacking government and parliament buildings and severely beating the Speaker of the National Assembly, radical groups looted the offices of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Open Society Foundations, and numerous civil society and media organizations continue to receive threats. Efforts to portray these organizations as antagonists to Armenia’s national interests include a film made by the group Veto that calls CSOs “enemies of the people,” calls to shut down their offices, and attempts to launch criminal investigations against them. Complaints filed by the CSOs about the threats and incidents of harassment have been largely ignored by the prosecutor general’s office and state investigative bodies.
On February 26, the Armenian authorities moved to deprive the HRDO of government vehicles, and at the sitting of the government on March 11, the Ministry of Finance introduced a bill to remove Part 5 of Article 8 of the “Constitutional Law of the Republic of Armenia on the Human Rights Defender.” This new bill, if passed, will further constrain the independence of the HRDO and impede its mandate to protect human rights in Armenia.
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