An independent judiciary is fundamental in protecting citizens from arbitrary detention

YEREVAN (15 September 2010) – The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention urged the Government of Armenia to ensure that its judiciary’s independence is rigorously protected to guarantee the administration of justice, fair trial and due process in order to ensure citizens are protected from arbitrary detention.

“The principle of equality of arms between the prosecution and defense is one of the basic prerequisites of a fair trial. Magistrates and judges as a practice grant requests in favour of the prosecutor whilst rarely giving consideration to those of the defence lawyers”, said El Hadj Malick Sow, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group in his statement to the Government this morning.

During its 11 day mission, concluded today, the Working Group noted a number of concerns including the excessive powers provided to the police, National Security Services and border guards in arresting and detaining many individuals without an arrest warrant. Grave concerns were expressed concerning detainees and prisoners who have been subjected to ill-treatment or beatings at police stations and the use of pressure to obtain confessions during investigations. The lack of use of detention alternatives such as bail along with a failure to use early provisional release in situations of good behavior and justified reintegration to society were also a recurrent issue raised by persons in detention.

Despite ample existing legislation conforming to international standards in relation to the rights of persons in detention, the Working Group considered that it was a lack of effective implementation of those standards and practices that presented situations where violations occurred. The Working Group also urged the Government to ensure that people are not detained or imprisoned because of their political beliefs and that the right to peaceful assembly and association be respected.

Mr. Sow, in his statement, commended the Government for its progressive efforts to carry out reforms, particularly the Criminal Procedure Code. He also highlighted the attempt to improve physical conditions in the prisons and detention centers visited. The Working Group was impressed to see the good rapport between prisoners and detainees and penitentiary guards as well as the work of the Ombudsman’s office in dealing with many complaints in the previous year.

However, “for the judiciary to reach the noble objective of effectively administrating justice, it must ensure that it is independent and impartial,” stated Mr. Sow.
The Working Group’s preliminary recommendations called for the Government to reform the law and practice on remand, in relation to sentencing as this has resulted in lengthy detentions that are disproportionate to the crimes a person is convicted of. The need to take into consideration the granting of early provisional release and the criteria for granting bail or remanding suspects in detention require tightening up with concomitant changes in practice.

The Working Group also highlighted the importance of ensuring that the rights of refugees and other migrants are protected in conformity with international human rights standards. Asylum seekers must not be turned away at the border or after detention without an opportunity to make claims in accordance with the international conventions that Armenia has ratified, and other migrants should not be criminalized by the use of border crossing and similar offences.

During its mission, the Working Group met with high level authorities from the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of the State. Meetings were also held with representatives of the Bar association, civil society members and representatives of UN agencies and international organizations. Visits were made to various places of detention within and outside Yerevan including penitentiaries, prisons, immigration holding facilities, police stations and psychiatric hospitals.

A final report on the visit shall be presented to the Human Rights Council in 2011.

The former Commission on Human Rights established the five-member Working Group in 1991 to investigate allegations of arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Its mandate was extended in 1997 to cover the issue of administrative custody of immigrants and asylum-seekers. The Chair-Rapporteur is Mr.El Hadj Malick Sow (from Senegal). The other members are Mr. Mads Andenas (from Norway); Ms. Shaheen Sardar Ali (from Pakistan); Mr. Roberto Garretón (from Chile) and Mr. Vladimir Tochilovsky (from Ukraine).

Learn more on the mandate and activities of the Working Group at: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/detention/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Armenia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/AMIndex.aspx

For more information on the Working Group’s visit, please contact Mr. Miguel de la Lama, Secretary of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Tel. +41 79 444 71 52 / email: mdelalama@ohchr.org or wgad@ohchr.org)