Committee against Torture hears responses of Armenia

AFTERNOON

11 May 2012

The Committee against Torture this afternoon heard the responses of Armenia to questions raised by Committee Experts on the third periodic report of that country on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Responding to a series of questions raised by the Committee members on Thursday, 10 May and today, the delegation of Armenia, which was led by Yeghishe Kirakosyan, Deputy Minister of Justice, talked about various issues concerning criminal prosecution for violence, torture and ill treatment committed by military or police officers, legislative efforts to bring the definition of torture in line with Article 1 of the Convention, and the reform programme to address negative aspects of the functioning of the police forces, which included the creation of Municipal Police operational since January 2012. Armenia recognized that overcrowding in prisons was a problem; the measures to address it included rehabilitation of old premises and construction of new facilities, application of early conditional releases, and serving sentences in open-type correctional establishments. The delegation stressed that the office of the human rights defender in Armenia was financed by the State budget and that its financing had recently been significantly increased. Armenia did not have a separate juvenile justice system; instead, it had specialized judges in each court and a special division in the police was in charge of juvenile cases in pre-trial stages. Armenia recognized the need for reforms in this area and was planning to establish an effective mechanism to address it.

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 concluding observations and recommendations of the Committee on the report of Armenia will be issued towards the end of the current session which concludes on 1 June.

When the Committee reconvenes on Monday, 14 May at 10 a.m., it will examine the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of the Czech Republic (CAT/C/CZE/4-5).

Responses of the Delegation of Armenia

Practice of hazing no longer existed in the Armenian armed forces. In 2011 several hundred crimes had been registered in the armed forces, including violence against superior officers and violence against subordinate officers and more than 300 criminal proceedings had been initiated. During 2011, a total of 36 deaths had been registered in the armed forces; 10 had been killed in service on the border with Azerbaijan and others had been attributed to murder, suicide and accidental deaths. Measures to prevent violence and other similar crimes included the quick resolution of existing cases and strengthening of discipline. The permanent sitting commission had been created in 2010 to prevent violence in the armed forces. The Criminal Code had been amended with the assistance of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to separate crimes committed in the armed forces and to establish criminal responsibility of the military officer; this amendment would be considered during the fall session of Parliament. All criminal cases committed by officers were considered by general courts and preliminary investigations were carried out by the police, the prosecutor and the Ministry of Defence. The Military Prosecutor Service was a part of the Office of the Prosecutor of Armenia.

Armenia had identified some negative aspects of the functioning of the police forces, most of which had been inherited from the Soviet era. Armenia hoped to find solutions to those problems through the successfully implemented 2010-2011 programme of police reform. Under this programme, measures had been taken in 11 areas of the functioning of the police, and it contained over 200 measures concerning structure and functioning on the daily basis, as well as the creation of the new form of Municipal Police which had become operational this year. The head of the police force had established a Working Group to prepare the 2013-2014 reform programme, which would include urgent issues such as full respect for the rights of witnesses and suspects, reports on detention, and video surveillance in order to ensure the right to counsel. Extradition was governed by the Vienna Convention and administered by the Office within the Ministry of Justice.

Cases relating to violence, torture and ill treatment committed by police officers were investigated under Article 119 of the Criminal Code of Armenia on abuse of power, which was not in line with the provisions of the Convention against Torture. Between 2009 and 2011, the prosecutor had considered 22 such cases; 11 had been transferred to courts and 22 persons had been convicted during pre-trial investigations and received different sentences, including imprisonment. The delegation provided accounts of the handling of the case of Vahan Khalafian who had died in police custody, and the case of excessive use of force by the police in the wake of the disputed February 2008 presidential polls in which 10 persons had died.

Armenia provided the following protection measures to those who participated in court proceedings: protection of individuals, protection of information, protection of physical safety, individual measures of protection, and others. Article 12 of the Criminal Code covered the main rights of the convicted persons and spelled out the complaint procedure to human rights organizations. Complaints could be submitted by the accused on a daily basis; they could be done orally or in writing and there was no censorship of those complaints or sanctions against those who submitted them. The law defined the right of foreign nationals to contact their consular representation in Armenia.

The 2009 legal amendments guaranteed free legal aid in all criminal and civil cases. The capacity of the Public Defender Office was doubled and the public trust in this office was growing subsequently. The Office covered not only the capital but the provinces as well. Medical care of detained and convicted persons was guaranteed and upon arrival to a detention facility, each person underwent an obligatory medical examination. The human rights defender office in Armenia was financed by the state budget and financing had recently been significantly increased. The monthly salary fund of this office was four times higher than the fund of judicial servants. In May 2010 Armenia had undergone its first Universal Periodic Review and was now about to present its first mid-term report. A Working Group had been created to examine and study all recommendations made by the Working Group on arbitrary detention and many agencies and United Nations bodies, as those were also recommendations raised during the Universal Periodic Review process. There was no contradiction between the law on refugees and asylum seekers and the Law on State Borders, but there was a contradiction with the Criminal Code, which stipulated the responsibility for unlawful crossing of the State border.

Foreign prisoners were kept in a separate establishment where conditions were better than in other prisons and there were no cases of discrimination against them. The Public Monitoring Group had been established in 2004 and consisted of representatives of non-governmental organizations. They had unlimited access to the penitentiary establishment and the right to confidential conversations with inmates. Overcrowding was indeed a problem in Armenian penitentiary institutions and measures by the Government included rehabilitation of old premises and construction of new facilities, application of early conditional release, serving sentence in open-type correctional establishment, and others. Even though Armenia did not have a separate juvenile justice system, there were judges in each court specialized in juvenile cases and a special division in police in charge of juvenile cases in pre-trial stages. Armenia recognized the need for reforms in this area and was planning to establish an effective mechanism for it. Complaints mechanisms in prison were regulated and guaranteed by the law and inmates could submit complaints in full confidentiality to the court, the prosecutor’s office, the Ministry of Justice, civil society organizations, international human rights organizations, and others. A new separate probation service would be created in the near future, which would be in charge of alternative punishment to reduce overcrowding and to bring to application alternative measures.

The issue of impartiality and independence of judges mentioned in the OSCE report was under special inspection by the Government. Soon the Code of Conduct for Judges would be published and judges would undergo special training on ethics.

Follow-up Questions of Experts

FELICE GAER, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the Report of Armenia, asked the delegation to elaborate on the alignment of the definition of torture in Armenia with that in the Convention. How many cases of alleged torture, hazing and violence in the armed forces had been handled by prosecution services? What was the total number of people currently in prison for refusing to perform military or alternative services? When was the police going to introduce video taping of interrogations? What was Armenia doing to ensure that homosexuals were protected from discrimination, violence and abuse? Did any of the cases of abuse of power investigated by the Special Investigative Services result in prosecution and sentences?

XUEXIAN WANG, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the Report of Armenia, requested additional information on training and noted serious allegations in the report of the Working Group on arbitrary detention. What was the legislation of Armenia governing compensation and redress to victims? Corruption in State institutions was another point of interest.

A Committee Expert asked the delegation to further elaborate on the system of free legal aid, on child labour and compulsory schooling, and on collaboration between oversight of prison facilities by the Ministry of Justice and the office of the human rights defender. What were the standards of sentencing in cases of violence between two members of armed forces? Another Expert noted that the Court of Cassation dealt with the domestic law, but this Committee needed to hear from the Constitutional Court as this court should be in charge of the human rights that were of interest to this Committee. He asked about the access of citizens to the Constitutional Court and whether there was a professional Bar Association in Armenia.

Why was the prescribed sentence for the violation of Article 119 of the Criminal Code mild; it carried a sentence of up to three years imprisonment while other States parties sanctioned it with 15 to 20 years in prison? The Committee also inquired about the intentions of the State party to reform the accusatory nature of the judicial system and to establish criminal responsibility of judges; legislation governing the special school for children; entry into force of legislation on domestic violence; and detailed information on living conditions in prisons.

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, asked the delegation to comment on the definition of torture and access to a lawyer under the Criminal Code of Armenia; on the conflict of interest in the functions of the office of the prosecutor; and on the lack of access of police monitoring mechanisms to visit police stations.

Responses of the Delegation

The definition of torture was a fundamental issue; the draft amendment to the Criminal Code which was now before Parliament brought the definition of torture in line with the Convention. This would also resolve the issue of amnesty for acts of torture and violations of Article 119 of the Criminal Code. Around 40 persons were currently serving sentences for avoiding alternative services. It was worth mentioning that the draft law amending the serving of alternative services, currently before Parliament, introduced the supervision of this service by an administrative body and not a military one.

There had been allegations of corruption in the penitentiary institutions, but there was no official record of them at the moment. An important part of the reforms in Armenia was combating corruption in Government, the judiciary and the police, and envisaged specific measures to combat corruption in the penitentiary as well. The rather mild penalty for violations of Article 119 on torture was indeed the case, but it was being addressed by the new draft amendment of the Criminal Code now before the Parliament. When military servicemen committed a crime, their actions were regulated by the criminal legislation related to military crimes in which crimes of torture did not exist and that was why statistics did not provide for acts of torture and ill treatment. In 2010, four police officers had been convicted for abuse of citizens and two had been convinced in 2011. Video surveillance of interrogations would be introduced as a part of the new police reform programme 2013-2014.

Prevention of violence and support provided to victims of violence and their families were of a special importance to the Government. In February 2011, the Government had approved the national strategy to combat gender-based violence which had established a national agency to combat this phenomenon. In June 2011 the national action plan to combat this violence had been established, based on national and international standards in this regard. A series of measures had also been adopted to combat trafficking in human beings and to establish structural collaboration between all agencies dealing with this issue. Assistance to victims of trafficking was provided by non-governmental organizations and by specialized Government agencies. Primary education was compulsory and free of charge. Armenia did not have a practice of asking other States to allow it to oversee people who had been extradited; it was to be noted that the preparation and the run up of extradition were a very complex and detailed process.

Closing Remarks

CLAUDIO GROSSMAN, Committee Chairperson, in his closing observations said that the Committee valued the answers of Armenia and added that the process of change took time. Armenia had achieved progress as seen in the abolition of the death penalty, establishment of the office of ombudsmen, and others. The expertise of the Committee would be made available to Armenia in the form of its concluding observations.

YEGHISHE KIRAKOSYAN, Deputy Minister of Justice of Armenia, in concluding remarks thanked the Committee for the positive dialogue and said that other answers by Armenia would be provided in writing.

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For use of the information media; not an official record