“Much remains to be done in Armenia towards ensuring the equal protection of human rights of women and men”, said the Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, at the end of a 5-day visit to Armenia.
“The adoption in 2013 of a Law on Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities for Men and Women and of gender-related policy documents are steps in the right direction”, said the Commissioner, urging the authorities to implement the legislation and policies in practice. However, despite some progress especially at the local level, women are not represented in key decision-making positions. In particular, women's participation in politics and public administration remains low. “Moreover,” observed the Commissioner, “prenatal sex selection, as reflected in the skewed sex ratios at birth between boys and girls (which can reach up to 124 male to 100 female births in certain regions) is symptomatic of gender bias.”
“I note the fact that gender equality and the problem of violence against women are now being discussed more openly”, the Commissioner stated. “Political and other community leaders have the responsibility to take an unequivocal stance against violence in the family, and to send a strong message that it can never be acceptable. I would like to encourage the adoption of specific legislation against domestic violence, and the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on this subject.”
When meeting certain women who had been subjected to gender-based violence – including sexual assault – as well as the social workers and other professionals working to assist them, Commissioner Muižnieks heard time and again examples of how the criminal justice system had been unresponsive to their plight. “Survivors of serious physical violence, some of them with visible injuries, told me that police had actively discouraged their complaints against abusive family members, that they had been humiliated during questioning, and that certain judges had rebuked them for acting in a 'shameful' manner. In effect, when it comes to violent crimes within the family, the system is more likely to protect perpetrators rather than victims”.
Regarding the administration of justice more broadly, surveys have shown very low public trust in the judiciary. In addition, judges themselves alerted the Commissioner to the comparatively low number of judges per capita and the considerable increases in caseload (forecasts suggest a doubling of cases in 2014 compared to 2013), which may affect the quality of decisions. In terms of criminal justice, problems highlighted include a pronounced prosecutorial bias, low acquittal rates (3.1%), and extensive resort to pretrial detention.
The Commissioner stressed that it is essential to protect the judiciary from external interference and to strengthen the independence of individual judges. “Some concerns have been voiced about improper pressure on judges through disciplinary proceedings against them,” observed the Commissioner. “Furthermore, procedures for selection, appointment and promotion of judges should be reviewed.”
“Combating police ill-treatment and impunity requires continued vigilance”, emphasised the Commissioner, encouraging authorities to persist in efforts to address police misconduct, including ill-treatment. “Effective investigation into alleged cases of abuse by police and other investigative agencies should be ensured. Criminal legislation should provide for a definition of torture compliant with international standards”, stressed the Commissioner. “Proper oversight over the work of law enforcement bodies and the development of investigative techniques which would decrease reliance on confessions play an important preventive role”, added the Commissioner.
The recently-adopted national human rights strategy and action plan should be seen as a work in progress. “I call upon the authorities to vigorously implement the measures foreseen in the action plan and to conduct an ongoing review to improve the document with the active involvement of civil society”, said the Commissioner.
A report on the Commissioner's visit is forthcoming.