Committee against Torture starts consideration of report of Armenia

MORNING

10 May 2012

The Committee against Torture this morning began its consideration of the third periodic report of Armenia on how it implements the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Introducing the report, Yeghishe Kirakosyan, Deputy Minister of Justice of Armenia, said in recent years, national legislation had been continuously brought into compliance with the Convention and other international instruments. The amendment to the Criminal Code, before the Parliament now, brought the definition of torture into compliance with the Convention. Steps had been taken to improve the application of safeguards to persons deprived of liberty and in this sense the new Criminal Procedure Code was being elaborated. Significant investments were being made into the office of the human rights defender, which today was a valuable instrument for the protection of human rights in Armenia. The problem of torture in penitentiary institutions had been solved and the focus now was on addressing poor building conditions and overcrowding. To ensure a positive impact in the fight against trafficking in persons, the Government had approved the establishment of the National Referral Mechanism for Trafficked Persons, a national framework for cooperation to protect and enhance the rights of trafficked persons.

Felice Gaer, Committee Expert who served as Rapporteur for the report of Armenia, noted the contradictions between progress achieved at the highest levels and the persistent problems of impunity, corruption and failure to prosecute police officers or public officials, and raised issues of detention and access to legal safeguards; bringing the definition of torture in compliance with the Convention against Torture; the responsibility of public officials for torture and degrading treatment of punishment; and the 2011 statistics on prosecutions for domestic violence.

Xuexian Wang, Committee Expert who also served as Rapporteur for the report of Armenia, commended the improvements in the promotion and protection of human rights in Armenia, including protection from torture. Mr. Wang asked if the Government conducted an independent impact assessment of training, and requested clarification on training for border guards, the comments on the Third National Action Plan for combating trafficking in persons, and on provisions regulating corporal punishment.

Committee Experts asked in-depth questions about measures to address the lack of funding for the national human rights defender; initiatives to combat corruption in the prison system; the nature of the system of juvenile justice, including penalties for juveniles; steps to combat trafficking in children and violence against children; and training pursuant to the Istanbul Protocol. Other questions regarded penalties for the crime of torture; compensation to victims of torture and their rehabilitation; follow up to the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights concerning acts of torture in Armenia; follow up to complaints and requests for compensation by victims of torture; incommunicado detention; free legal aid to asylum seekers and migrants; and the system of military justice.

The delegation of Armenia consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Police, and the Court of Cassation.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. today when it will hear the replies of Greece which presented its report yesterday. The replies of Armenia will be heard at 3 p.m. on Friday, 11 May.

Report of Armenia

The third periodic report of Armenia can be read via the following link (CAT/C/ARM/3).

Presentation of the Report of Armenia


YEGHISHE KIRAKOSYAN, Deputy Minister of Justice of Armenia, introduced the report of Armenia which addressed all issues raised by the Committee and referred to legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures to address those issues and fulfil its obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In recent years, national legislation had been continuously brought into compliance with the Convention and other international instruments. The amendment to the Criminal Code, before the Parliament now, brought the definition of torture into compliance with the Convention. Steps had been taken to improve the application of safeguards to persons deprived of liberty and in this sense the new Criminal Procedure Code was being elaborated. The Court of Cassation was developing a strong line of case law concerning the deprivation of liberty, which covered gaps in the legislation of Armenia and was more effective as it took force immediately. This was a good tool to use to fulfil the international obligations of Armenia. Armenia was in the process of drafting an action plan for the reform of the judicial system for the next five years, which would include amending the system of public defender’s office. Significant investments were being made into the office of the human rights defender, which today was a valuable instrument for the protection of human rights in Armenia.

The investigation services in the field of fighting crime had established a good working relationship with the office of the public prosecutor, thus bringing more effectiveness in the work of both bodies. A new law on an alternative to military services was now under review to bring it in line with European standards. Important work had been done to prevent violence against women and children and a draft law on the prevention of family violence would be adopted soon. Juvenile crime had decreased due to extensive work and cooperation between the different institutions of law enforcement. To ensure a positive impact in the fight against trafficking in persons, the Government had approved the establishment of the National Referral Mechanism for Trafficked Persons, a national framework for cooperation to protect and enhance the rights of trafficked persons. Armenia had acceded to a number of international instruments regulating issues on mutual legal assistance, transfers of proceedings in criminal matters, and on extradition of criminals. The problem of torture in penitentiary institutions had been solved and the focus now was on addressing poor building conditions and overcrowding. Armenia had expressed its concern in the highest international fora regarding State-sponsored systematic large scale anti-Armenian propaganda and hate speech by the Azerbaijani leadership. Azerbaijani authorities did not change their position and anti-Armenian propaganda remained the basic part of their official policy.

Questions from Rapporteurs on Armenia

FELICE GAER, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the Report of Armenia, said that the Government’s measures at the highest level were commendable and yet contradictions existed in what United Nations Special Procedures had called impunity at the lower levels, and the lack of a law addressing domestic violence 19 years after the Convention had been ratified. Corruption existed, violence went unpunished, and investigations, when opened by the police, often went unfinished. There was a feeling of fear among the population about the lack of protection and safeguards during the deprivation of liberty. Ms. Gaer asked the delegation a number of questions concerning detention and arrest, including on measures to improve access to safeguards, legal aid and medical exams; measures against police officers who failed to properly fill in arrest records; the number of people who requested compensation for being held in police stations for longer than 72 hours; and concerning measures taken to ensure that all apprehended persons enjoyed the right to information and counsel immediately upon being taken to custody.

Ms. Gaer said non-governmental organizations claimed that legal amendments to bring the definition of torture in compliance with the Convention were not sufficient and the Expert asked the delegation to provide Armenia’s definition of torture and the relevant documents. Further, the delegation was requested to comment on the responsibility of public officials for torture and degrading and ill treatment, the lack of investigation for this offence, and the amnesty granted to some of them. Could the delegation comment on the budget of the office of the human rights defender and its function as the national preventive mechanism and provide statistics on the prosecuted cases for domestic violence in 2011? With regard to Article 3 on extradition, could the delegation provide data on extradition to the Russian Federation? The Committee appreciated information concerning diplomatic assurances and asked what happened when Armenia asked for consular monitoring of people returned to other States. On asylum, the delegation had provided a lot of information on asylum applicants; still information was needed on the total number of deportations and expulsions and countries to which people were deported or expelled. How many asylum applications had been rejected and how many people were held in administrative detention?

XUEXIAN WANG, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the Report of Armenia, commended the improvements in the promotion and protection of human rights in Armenia, including protection from torture. There seemed to be an inconsistency between the law on refugees and the law on international borders which considered all persons crossing the international border to be transgressors. Did the Government conduct an independent impact assessment of training and what training did border guards receive? Was the obligatory presence of a counsellor respected in practice and in all cases? Could the delegation comment on the change of status of some people invited to police station under the pretext they were material witnesses, to suspects? The Working Group on Arbitration claimed that the number of claims received and processed by the human rights defender was over 5,000 and the delegation claimed that number was 40. Could the delegation comment on the Third National Action Plan for combating trafficking in persons and on provisions regulating corporal punishment?

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert noted that the lack of funding was the reason behind irregular visits by the national preventive mechanism to places of detention and asked the delegation to clarify whether the budget of the national human rights defender had been increased. What steps had been taken by the authorities to address corruption in the prison system? Another Expert said that prevention work aimed at preventing juvenile delinquency was ongoing in Armenia and asked the delegation to expand on the system of juvenile justice, steps to combat trafficking in children, and violence against children.

Did incommunicado detention exist in Armenia and what happened when their status changed, another Expert asked. It was hard to understand the system of military justice, its architecture and scope of activities, particularly when those affected civilians. Under whose jurisdiction were soldiers who committed crimes against civilians? Was there free legal aid to asylum seekers and migrants? An Expert noted that the judicial system in Armenia did not function properly, despite the judicial reform decrees and the existence of the Code of Conduct, and that the problem seemed to be the gap in the application of the law.

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, said that Armenia had abolished the death penalty in 2003 and had established the office of the ombudsmen, both were high-level achievements. The Committee was looking forward to receiving a copy of the new draft amendment of the Criminal Code to bring the definition of torture in line with the Convention and expressed hope that it contained all the necessary safeguards as prescribed by the Convention. Armenia had embarked on a very significant project of legal reform concerning electronic monitoring, rights of women, family violence, reform of the penitentiary system and others. What was the involvement of civil society in this process and what was the timetable for its completion?

Committee Experts asked the delegation to comment and clarify a number of other issues, including penalties for the crime of torture; compensation to victims of torture and their rehabilitation; training of judges pursuant to the judgements by the European Court of Human Rights concerning acts of torture in Armenia; follow up to complaints and requests for compensation by victims of torture; training on the provisions of the Istanbul Protocol and the services afforded to victims of trafficking; the functioning of the complaint mechanism, in particular with regard to protection of confidentiality; and the intentions of Armenia concerning the Article 22 of the Convention.

FELICE GAER, Committee Expert and Rapporteur on Armenia, in a second round of questions, said that there was a lack of data concerning persons currently serving prison sentences for refusing to conduct military service and asked what the timeline on the legislation on alternative services was. What measures were in place to ensure the safety and protection of civil rights and freedoms of individuals coming forward with sensitive and confidential information, for example concerning police mistreatment or violence in prisons?

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