Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers Report of Armenia


Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination

1 March 2011

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has considered the fifth and sixth periodic reports of Armenia on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Presenting the report, Arman Kirakkossian, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, said the Government of Armenia condemned discrimination in all its forms and manifestations. National legislation ensured the equality of all citizens in all spheres of life without any discrimination, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin. Mr. Kirakossian stated that the comprehensive National Programme on Human Rights Protection was currently under development, and would be approved this year. Armenia had taken a number of legal and institutional steps to strengthen the protection of women’s rights and appropriate measures had been taken by the State to improve the status of women in society including means of eliminating all forms of discrimination that could undermine true equality between men and women.

Mr. Kirakossian underlined that some of the national minorities who lived in Armenia such as Assyrians, Kurds and Yezidis did not have a kin state which meant that they needed additional attention and protection. In the realm of education, textbooks were developed with the participation of representatives of national minorities, with the aim of providing a balanced response to their specific needs and ensuring their equitable access to the resources available. Mr. Kirakossian highlighted that the State had continuously pursued a policy of full integration of refugees and those granted asylum in Armenia had the right to benefit from social services as prescribed by legislation and they received state allowances and other financial assistance as well as free medical aid guaranteed by the State. Mr. Kirakossian further stressed that since gaining independence in 1991 Armenia had expressed its firm commitment to guaranteeing freedom of thought and conscience and had made significant steps toward the prevention of any kind of discrimination based on religion and belief.

In preliminary concluding observations, Ion Diaconu, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Armenia, thanked the delegation for the very good dialogue and encouraged it to use the Committee’s recommendations in order to improve the situation in Armenia as there was always room for improvement. Mr. Diaconu said that the Committee accepted the responses provided by the delegation so far, but noted that several questions remained unanswered or had only received partial answers. The Rapporteur urged the delegation to endeavour to provide more information in their next report to the Committee.

Other Committee Experts raised questions and asked for further information on subjects pertaining to, among other things, the current number and status of the Azeris minority group in Armenia, cases received by the human rights defender with regard to racial discrimination and the results of his activity, the existence of an organisation called the Union of Armenian Aryans which had called for the expulsion of Yezedis, Kurds and Jews from Armenian, the absence of disaggregated data regarding the geographic location of minority groups and the exercise of their rights in public life, and the status of refugees and internally displaced persons that Armenia had received during the war.

The delegation of Armenia included representatives from several governmental organizations including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Police Department, the Department for National Minorities and Religious Affairs and the Permanent Mission of Armenia to the United Nations at Geneva.

The Committee will present its written observations and recommendations on the fifth and sixth periodic reports of Armenia at the end of its session, which concludes on 11 March.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon it is scheduled to take up the eighth and ninth periodic reports of Moldova (CERD/C/MDA/8-9).

Report of Armenia

The combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Armenia (CERD/C/ARM/5-6) refers, in particular, to legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures undertaken by the authorities of the Republic of Armenia for the purpose of implementing the provisions of the Convention. During the elections held on 17 February 2006 in the National Assembly the Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia was elected for a term of six years. The tasks of the Human Rights Defender are the following: to raise the level of legal protection and legal assistance of an individual in the country; to contribute to the improvement of legislative assurance of human rights and fundamental freedoms and to the harmonization of the legislation of the Republic of Armenia with universal principles and norms of the international law; to initiate a constructive cooperation between defender and authorities and defender and the society and to enhance the development of such cooperation; and to provide opportunities for and access to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The authorities of the Republic of Armenia attach high importance to the fight against any form of racial discrimination both at national and international levels. The principles of the Durban Declaration and the Programme of Action form the basis of the activities of State relating to the fight against racial discrimination. The Republic of Armenia has ratified a number of international instruments that protect the rights of national minorities and ensure freedom of religion and conscience. The Amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia aim at the protection of human rights, equality of all persons before the law, and the protection of the human right to determine and protect one’s national belonging. Armenia takes measures towards establishing principles of equal rights to freedom of religion and belief in the political, social and cultural life of national minorities. Preventive measures are taken against manifestations of discrimination on the ground of racial, national or ethnic origin and religious beliefs.

Taking into consideration the fact that refugees are among those vulnerable groups that are most prone to various manifestations of racial discrimination, the authorities of the Republic of Armenia have taken relevant measures to prevent such phenomena. The authorised state administration body on refugee affairs has always taken and continues taking all possible measures to guarantee the complete and equal protection of the rights and freedoms of asylum-seekers and persons recognised as refugees in Armenia as prescribed by international norms and the legislation of the Republic of Armenia. Provisions on all forms of racial discrimination have been excluded from the legal acts concerning asylum-seekers and refugees. Persons seeking asylum in Armenia are mainly citizens of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Georgia. Approximately 1,600 foreign citizens have sought asylum, of which 179 have claimed a refugee status. Refugee status has been granted to 24 refugees, 13 applications are in the process of consideration, and applications for the rest have been rejected.

There are legal grounds in the Republic of Armenia to prevent violations of women’s rights on the grounds of gender. All current mechanisms for the restoration of violated rights are available to any citizen of the Republic of Armenia, as well as to women of national minorities. Manifestations of discrimination against women are mostly found in Yezidi and Kurdish communities which often derive from their customs, and no community allows interfering with their internal relationships. The legal framework of the Republic of Armenia fully guarantees the protection and promotion of human rights.

Presentation of Report

ARMAN KIRAKOSSIAN, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, in presenting the country’s periodic report, said Armenia was signatory to numerous international treaties including the fundamental international instruments in the sphere of human rights which protect the rights of national minorities and freedom of religion and conscience. The government of Armenia condemned discrimination in all its forms and manifestations. The national legislation ensured equality of all citizens in all spheres of life without any discrimination, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin. With a view to implementing the 6 May 2010 Universal Periodic Review of Armenia, the government was planning to establish an inter-ministerial commission comprising representatives from relevant State authorities and non-governmental organizations.

Mr. Kirakossian said the comprehensive National Programme on Human Rights Protection was currently under development, and would be approved this year. Armenia had taken a number of legal and institutional steps to strengthen the protection of women’s rights and appropriate measures had been taken by the State to improve the status of women in society, including means of eliminating all forms of discrimination that could affect true equality between men and women. The Electoral Code established a 15 per cent quota for women to be chosen from proportional lists instead of the former 5 per cent quota and at least one out of every ten candidates on the list must be a woman.

Mr. Kirakossian underlined that the 2010 to 2012 National Action Plan on Combating Trafficking of Human Beings in Armenia with its implementation timetable had been adopted by the government in September 2010 and about 217,000 USD had been earmarked to finance anti-trafficking actions for 2010.

He went on to say that continuing contributions to the preservation, dissemination and development of the cultural heritage of national minorities was one of the State’s priorities and the Ministry of Culture was collaborating with associations and non-governmental organisations of national minorities and assisted in the organisation of cultural events. All historical, architectural, cultural and religious structures located within the State’s territory were under State protection, irrespective of their ethnic or religious belonging. The efforts toward promoting respect for Islamic cultural heritage went along with the overall policy of religious tolerance which was dully acknowledged by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.

Mr. Kirakossian stated that people had the right to file complaints directly with the Constitutional Court of the country following recent constitutional amendments. As a result, the Court received 295 individual constitutional complaints in 2009. The new Criminal Code prohibited incitement to racial hatred and according to Article 226(1) of the Code, actions aimed at incitement to national, racial or religious hatred or hostilities were qualified as crimes and were punishable by a fine in the amount of two to five hundred times minimum wage or by a maximum of two years of correctional labour or by 2 to 4 years of imprisonment.

In October 2003, the law to create a human rights defender was adopted and required the National Assembly to elect an ombudsman who would be an independent official for a term of 6 years. The ombudsman implemented the protection of human rights and freedoms by State and local self-government bodies and their officials.

Mr. Kirakossian underlined that some of the national minorities who lived in Armenia such as Assyrians, Kurds and Yezidis did not have a kin state which meant that they needed even more special attention and protection. In the realm of education, textbooks were developed with the participation of representatives of national minorities, with the aim of providing a balanced response to their specific needs and ensuring their equitable access to the resources available.

State policy regarding employment was aimed at creating conditions for ensuring full and efficient employment. The new law stipulated legal grounds for employment in the republic of Armenia, state policy principles in the field of employment as well as social protection in case of unemployment. Every citizen had the right to choose his or her profession and groundless refusal to hire a person was prohibited; this applied to both citizens and foreigners living in Armenia.

Armenia had always taken all possible measures to ensure comprehensive and equal protection of the rights and freedoms of persons seeking asylum and recognised as refugees in Armenia. The State had continuously pursued a policy of full integration of refugees and those granted asylum in Armenia had the right to benefit from the social services as prescribed by the legislation and receive State allowances and other financial assistance as well as free medical aid guaranteed by the State. There was legislation which guaranteed the right to judicial protection for rejected asylum seekers and the decision on rejection could be appealed before the courts without payment of fees. Mr. Kirakossian underlined that despite immense efforts made for years with the purpose of resolving the problems of more that 400,000 refugees from Azerbaijan, Armenia had not yet fully resolved the housing problem of refugees. The State was also still dealing with the internally displaced persons who had been displaced due to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and the Azerbaijani military activity on the Armenian-Azerbaijan border.

Mr. Kirakossian highlighted that since gaining independence in 1991 Armenia had expressed its firm commitment to guarantee freedom of thought and conscience. Armenia had made significant steps toward the prevention of any kind of discrimination based on religion and belief. The number of registered religious organisations had therefore risen from only 14 in 1997 to 66 in 2010, demonstrating the level of religious pluralism in the country.


Questions Raised by the Rapporteur and Experts

ION DIACONU, the Committee Expert serving as country Rapporteur for the report of Armenia, said Armenia had, and still would have, to overcome many difficulties, like the sudden change of the the political regime, a painful conflict leading to a huge number of refugees and internally displaced persons, and of course the period of transition to a democratic system and a decentralised economy. Mr. Diaconu noted that the report contained references to actions of other States parties which violated the Convention, but the Committee was not accepting such allegations by States parties when their reports were being considered. Mr. Diaconu said Armenia had 3.2 million inhabitants, more than 2 per cent of them members of minority groups according to the 2001 census. The State recognised 11 such minority groups, although the data provided indicated only six of them and the Rapporteur asked for supplementary data to that effect. Mr. Diaconu also asked to know more about the current number and status of the Azeris minority group in Armenia. The delegation was asked to say whether the human rights defender received all the competencies of the National Commission and if he exercised these competences. Mr. Diaconu asked for more information about cases received by the defender with regard to racial discrimination and the results of his activity.

The Rapporteur noted that Armenia had a clear-cut policy to combat and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of race and national or ethnic origin and several other laws for implementing the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Mr. Diaconu however suggested that the Committee continue to strengthen its efforts to ensure the implementation of these laws. The Rapporteur commended the delegation on the statement that international treaties and norms on human rights and fundamental freedoms had priority over national laws and asked the delegation whether there had been cases in which the Convention was invoked in courts or in front of other State authorities, as the statement implied.

The Rapporteur highlighted reports which talked of the existence of an organisation called the Union of Armenian Aryans which had called for the expulsion of Yezidis, Kurds and Jews from Armenia and asked the delegation to provide information about such a group’s existence, official recognition and whether the State had investigated the conditions under which it operated. Mr. Diaconu also noted the absence of disaggregated data regarding the geographic location of the minority groups and the exercise of their rights in public life.

The delegation was also asked to provide more information regarding the limits to the exercise of human rights resulting from the traditions of the Yezidi, Kurdish and Russian-Molokan communities and what the long-term impact of the participation of these groups in public life was in the society. Had the State undertaken measures to change the situation? The Rapporteur asked the delegation to say what had become of the refugees and internally displaced persons, in terms of their number, status and living conditions, that Armenia received during the war. The Rapporteur said the Committee would also make recommendations for the State to take resolute measures for the implementation of legislation which would provide for the full rights of children of minority groups to proper education.

The Rapporteur noted that members of the Yezidi minority still had problems with regard to land, water and grazing issues and given that after the political changes land was auctioned off this further disadvantaged the poor. The delegation was asked to provide more information about this community and the steps it had taken to solve their problems. Quoting paragraph 177 of the report, Mr. Diaconu said the 2008 amended text of the Law on Public TV and Radio eliminated the quota established for programmes in minority languages and asked the delegation for more information on this measure and what possibilities minority groups had to express their cultural identity. Mr. Diaconu underlined that the Committee had no mandate to deal with religious freedoms except when discrimination in this field was based on racial or ethnic origin and referred to reports which talked of cases of restrictions applied to some religious denominations except for the Armenian Apostolic Church and that the study of the history of this church would be compulsory in schools. The delegation was asked to explain how this issue of religious education in school was solved, particularly for children belonging to minorities and foreigners.

Mr. Diaconu said statements from some high officials suggested a prevalent attitude of suspicion towards foreigners, rejection of other people, and stereotypes concerning other ethnic groups and asked the delegation to inform the Committee on the steps taken to educate the young generation and the population as a whole in a spirit of tolerance, understanding and respect for others. The Rapporteur further raised concerns about the absence of data submitted to justice or to other competent bodies on cases of racial discrimination in accordance with the Convention and the laws of the country.

The Rapporteur further underlined that according to disturbing reports from a Georgian non-governmental organization, Armenian armed forces had committed acts of violence, deprivation of property and of water resources in some villages of Georgia against persons belonging to an ethnic group and he said that the Committee was entitled to a direct response on the issue.

Mr. Diaconu said that most of the laws and institutions in Armenia were young and needed time to have a full impact, but there was a good foundation for progress in the implementation of the Committee’s Convention, an objective of the Committee’s dialogue with the State party during this session.

An Expert said that the Armenian delegation displayed a lot of seriousness in responding to the Committee and thanked the delegation for information provided in the oral presentation of the report. The Expert asked whether the State party could say whether there were any Roma left in Armenia or had they all completely departed. The delegation was also asked to give detailed information about what requirements existed for applying for and obtaining Armenian citizenship.

Another Expert highlighted the strong ties existing between France and Armenia. He probed the delegation for more information about the resources needed as per the Universal Periodic Review to ensure the total respect for human rights. The Expert raised the issue of the effective role of national minorities and unions of nationalities in Armenia. They also wanted to know more about the prosecution of acts based on racism and called on the delegation to provide information about victims of racial discrimination, evidence of trials and sentencing of perpetrators. The Expert asked the delegation to consider providing statistics or what could be seen by some as “hidden figures” in their next report. The Expert also asked why Armenia had not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and if the State planned to do so in the future.

Response by Delegation

The delegation agreed that there was an Azeri community in Armenia before 1989 and that there were still Azeris of mixed origin, although no real statistics existed. The delegation also did not know the source of the figure which claimed that there were still about 3,700 Azeris in Armenia.

According to the delegation, there were 11 national minorities in Armenia and they cited the presence of 3,500 Assyrians, 15,000 Russians, 40,500 Yezidis, 1,500 Kurds and 1,700 Greeks. The census that would be carried out next year would provide detailed data about national minorities in Armenia. The dynamics of migration and the rate of child mortality would be covered in the new census as well.

The delegation explained that the Council for Minorities was established in March 2000 in order to foster the well being of these groups in Armenia. The function was to develop and promote issues related to the rights of minorities in Armenia and the State provided funds to all organisations representing national minorities. The Council did not belong to any political party and did not support a particular political thought. It also carried out different cultural and religious events with the aim of promoting the cultural and religious heritage of national minorities.

The delegation announced that a new consultative body called the Public Council had been created by the President of Armenia. The Public Council was responsible for promoting understanding among representatives of all national minority groups in Armenia. The functioning of this body would be presented in the State party’s next report to the Committee.

The delegation said the human rights defender was very active in the domain of protection of the rights of national minorities and had not received any complaints about violations so far. The Ombudsman had been working in collaboration with the judiciary and police, had his/her own staff and budget and a broader and more extensive mandate.

The delegation further said regarding the Criminal Code, racial crime and discrimination was penalised with up to 6 years imprisonment. In one case of racist statements about Germans and the Jewish community it was determined that the statements were made by a mentally incompetent person and he was released without charge.

In terms of criminal cases during the past 9 years, there had not been a single crime committed against a member of a national minority on the grounds of intolerance.

The delegation said that in the Department of Justice there was a legal institute which provided training courses for legal authorities on issues of racial discrimination and human rights. There were judges who were Yezidis and who were very much respected by their non-Yezidi colleagues in the administration.

Regarding the issue of children of refugees and education, the delegation admitted that this was a problem and it concerned children living in out-of-the-way zones and who had problems speaking the Armenian language. However, the State had taken all steps necessary to provide adequate education for the children and most of them ended up speaking fluent Armenian after the first year of studies.

The delegation said that the head of the Union of Aryan Armenians had been prosecuted and imprisoned for three years for racist speech. He had served the prison term, been released on bail and was currently inactive.

The legal framework of the Republic of Armenia guaranteed that every citizen and person living within its territory for at least three years who had a command of the Armenian language and had attained the age of 18 could acquire Armenian nationality. Amendments to that law also provided for the possibility of obtaining dual citizenship. Representatives of national minorities had equal rights to participate in the life of political parties and to create their own political parties.

The delegation assured the Committee that following constitutional amendments, all nationals had the right to employment and the national assembly had enumerated several laws to cover all aspects in this domain.

The State had undertaken to implement a national action programme to enforce the protection of the rights of women in society with particular attention to women from underprivileged and/or minority communities. In March 2010 the government established an inter-ministerial committee to oversee the implementation of measures to protect women from domestic violence.

A human rights course was included as a separate subject in the school curriculum and was taught in the ninth grade and there were further courses in the domain of human rights taught in Armenian higher institutions of learning. The delegation explained that all fundamental conventions on human rights were taken as the basis for several study programmes in law and policy.

On an annual basis the government of Armenia developed and adopted curricula for minority students in order to enable them to study their national languages and literature on a 40 hour per week basis. The children also had the possibility to study several other foreign languages including English, French, German, Spanish, and Kurdish among others.

The delegation underlined that regarding issues of national security, the State did not approach the issue in a restrictive manner but developed it on a broad nature in order to include all sensitive questions. Armenia was trying to promote the rights of national minorities in the international arena such as the Yezidis in Russia. Yezidis, together with all groups in Armenia, participated in the land privatisation campaign. The delegation highlighted that despite the fact that this group had never practiced land ownership the State had granted them the right to do so during the privatisation campaign. The delegation stressed that only an isolated case of about 30 families was not allowed to register and own their land because their houses had been illegally built and this denial had not been on racist grounds.

The delegation explained that from 1989 to 2001 there had not been a census in Armenia and all the data obtained or quoted during this period was purely an estimate and did not reflect a true picture. The delegation said it could only give figures for people or groups who wanted to be registered as minorities, but it could not say exactly how many minority groups had remained in or left the country.

Regarding the issue of the border dispute between Armenia and Georgia, the delegation underlined that the State did not exercise control over any part of the territory of Georgia. The delegation further stressed that the Advisory Committee had never said anything regarding the involvement of Armenian armed forces or anyone acting on behalf of the State. There was therefore no legal or factual information substantiating the claims made by the Georgian non-governmental organisation. The delegation did stress, however that only two Armenian nationals were reported to have been involved in a broil with the Georgian nationals and regretted the fact that the Rapporteur had given attention to such allegations.

Further Questions by Experts

An Expert asked the delegation to explain whether the various pending ratifications were important to Armenia because it was of interest to the Committee to know that the State had additional and appropriate measures to foster the implementation of the Convention. Regarding the issue of the Roma, the Expert wondered whether this group actually left Armenia completely and asked the delegation to investigate the issue more carefully. The Expert said the Committee was not a tribunal, but was interested in an interactive dialogue with States parties and further explained that the Committee was committed to checking any information received from non-governmental organisations, especially when it touched on the Committee’s concerns.

Another Expert sought further clarification and asked what the status of recognition was of the human rights defender and its relation to the Paris Principles. The Expert raised concerns about the legal facilitation of the reversal of the burden of proof in civil matters related to racial discrimination.

Response by Delegation

Regarding the human rights defender, the delegation said this was a constitutional body with a broad mandate as provided by the constitution.

Regarding the reversal of burden of proof, the State’s constitution stated that the Judge was allowed to provide that possibility, especially in difficult cases.

The delegation underlined that all questions related to national minorities were at the centre of the operations of the law and security forces and the heads of local police precincts had also identified special hours during the working day to meet with members of civil society during which time written complaints could be submitted following a defined procedure.

Regarding the lack of complaints, the delegation explained that all the measures put in place were designed with a preventive dynamic which meant that amicable settlements helped reduce if not eliminate complaints from reaching a court of law.

Further Questions by Experts

An Expert recalled that it would be worthwhile to remember that given the heterogeneous nature of Armenian society, the number of national minorities remained small. They noted that several parts of the recommendations by the Committee were yet to be addressed by the State party and required greater attention.

Response by Delegation

The delegation said that in Armenia legislation strictly prohibited organisations which propagated racist activities, but this could only be applied when the group was registered and had committed such unacceptable actions. The Criminal Code’s provision was a prison term of not less than 4 years for the convicted.

Regarding the Armenian community worldwide, the delegation said the State’s society was a tolerant homogenous society with a small number of minorities. Armenians were law abiding citizens who sought to preserve their identity and culture wherever they found themselves.

Further Questions by Experts

An expert followed-up on the question of burden of proof by asking the delegation if it had considered the possibility of protecting victims of racial discrimination so that they felt safe from further discrimination when they submitted their complaints to the authorities. The delegation was also asked to provide further information about specific measures taken in favour of minority women who were vulnerable by virtue of their small number in society.

Response by Delegation

The delegation said Armenia was considering the Convention and insisted that it would eventually do so, but the process was ongoing.

The delegation also informed the Committee that legislative and preventive measures had been put in force and several cases had been brought before the authorities and there had always been a convenient and satisfactory solution. This explained why no one had brought a case to the European Human Rights Court.

Regarding minority women, the delegation said a Women’s Council headed by the Prime Minister of Armenia was entrusted with monitoring women’s issues in order to enforce the protection and promotion of women’s rights.

The delegation explained that all police officers received basic training in human rights issues and racial and ethnic tolerance as well as racial discrimination.

Further Questions by Experts

Another Committee Expert requested further information on the issue of the reversal of the burden of proof in the sense that it was important for people to be able to appeal cases.

The delegation said in the civil procedure in Armenia, each person carried the burden of proof of all the information submitted to court. Should a person state that he or she was not in a position to provide the proof the judge would request that person to do so. The delegation promised that it could provide the Committee with more information on the issue in writing later.

Preliminary Concluding Observations

In preliminary concluding observations, ION DIACONU, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Armenia, thanked the delegation for the very good dialogue and encouraged it to take the Committee’s recommendations in order to improve the situation in Armenia as there was always room for improvement. Mr. Diaconu said that the Committee accepted the responses provided by the delegation so far, but noted that several questions remained unanswered or had only received partial answers. He urged the delegation to endeavour to provide more information in their next report to the Committee. Mr. Diaconu also said that despite the absence of current data which could give a clear picture of the situation in Armenia, the delegation should still feel responsible for doing the best it could to collect this data to stay abreast of the situation in Armenia.

In concluding remarks, ARMAN KIRAKOSSIAN, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, thanked the Committee members for the fruitful dialogue and promised to take all the recommendations of the committee into consideration. He also thanked the Rapporteur for his insightful questions and comments about the situation in Armenia.

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