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De 'verslechterende' mensenrechten in Armenië zijn reden tot zorg, aldus de conferentie

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Armenië_Protest-0dec3-7230Recent demonstrations in Armenia represent an expression of public concern about “deteriorating” human rights in the country, a Brussels conference was told.

Maciej Falkowski, van het in Warschau gevestigde Centrum voor Oosterse Studies, zei in het Europees Parlement dat de protesten, vermoedelijk over een stijging van de energieprijzen, ook de aanhoudende bezorgdheid weerspiegelen over de sociale, economische en politieke problemen waarmee het land te kampen heeft.

“Armenia faces a crisis of its entire political system,” Falkowski  told the event, organized by Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), a leading Brussels-based non-Governmental Organisation.

The debate comes on the eve of a referendum in Armenia this Sunday (6 December) on changes to the country’s constitution and also in the wake of recent street protests which, it was said, highlight growing concerns about alleged human rights violations.

Falkowski said demonstrators had taken to the streets against a proposed big electricity price increases but that there was also a “definite” anti-Russian element to the protests.

Het vijftigkoppige publiek, bestaande uit leden van het Europees Parlement, NGO's en EU-experts, kreeg een korte nieuwsfilm te zien van de protesten, waaruit duidelijk bleek dat de Armeense autoriteiten geweld gebruikten tegen de vreedzame demonstratie.

Opening the lively two-hour discussion, entitled ‘Armenia between Eurasia and EU’, Estonian centre-right MEP Tunne Kelam noted that Armenia was one of the earliest Christian civilizations and that its first churches were founded in the fourth century.

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“However,” he said, “Armenia is now a country caught in the crosswinds between Europe and Eurasia.”

Corruption was “widespread” and the country’s oligarchs had sought to displace the influence of the Church in order to “boost their own social status.”

Kelam, lid van de Commissie Buitenlandse Zaken, wees op verschillende resoluties die het Europees Parlement over Armenië had aangenomen en waarin bezorgdheid werd geuit over schendingen van de rechten.

Een bijzonder zorgpunt, zo merkte hij op, was de corruptie in de rechterlijke macht en het gebrek aan scheiding tussen de wetgevende, uitvoerende en rechterlijke macht.

In de discussie werd verteld dat het maatschappelijk middenveld in Armenië, dat in 1991 onafhankelijk werd van de Sovjet-Unie, geschokt was door het besluit in januari van de Armeense president Serj Sargsyan om de EU de rug toe te keren en zich in plaats daarvan aan te sluiten bij het door Moskou geleide Euraziatische parlement. Economische Unie.

Falkowski said: “Russia controls Armenia’s electricity network and, having joined Eurasian, falls further under Russia’s political umbrella,” adding, “so, yes, there was definitely an anti-Russia element to the protests.”

Human rights activist Ben Kennard, another keynote speaker, spoke about the European dimension, the “ill-treatment” of people who are arrested on trumped-up charges and the “systemic” problem of domestic violence in Armenia.

Kennard van het European Caucasus House (EUCASA), een in Brussel gevestigde NGO, zei dat veel vrouwen in Armenië terughoudend zijn om misbruik te melden, omdat ze niet geloofden dat hun klacht goed zou worden onderzocht door de politie.

“There is a feeling that the police do not follow up complaints while support services for female victims of abuse are also insufficient, he noted.

Wat de EU-dimensie betreft, wees Kennard erop dat Armenië weliswaar tariefvrije toegang tot de Europese markten voor bepaalde goederen had, maar dat het land ook zo'n 27 internationale verdragen had ondertekend en lid was van zowel de VN als de Raad van Europa.

“It is important,” he argued, “that the international community, including the EU, closely monitors implementation of these conventions in the future and addresses these issues.”

Kennard is ook van mening dat de voortgezette visumliberalisering met Armenië, die vorig jaar is ingezet, afhankelijk moet worden gesteld van de introductie van alomvattende antidiscriminatiewetten.

“Visa liberalization should not come at the cost of human rights,” he declared. This, he suggests, could also be a way of further promoting “decent” human rights in the country.

He told the debate: “We should not give up on Armenia and human rights and its Eurasian membership is not necessarily incompatible with achieving decent standards of human rights. But this is a crucial time for Armenia.”

The EU, said Kennard, also had a role to play in “communicating human rights issues and values” to Armenian citizens, adding: “It is important that ordinary people in the country are exposed to these topics.”

Willy Fautre, director of HRWF, addressed serious problems with the country’s judiciary and also addressed the decision, after 15 years of an “increasingly close relationship” with the EU, including “significant” economic integration and deepening political cooperation, to join the Eurasian Economic Union.

“This abrupt political U-turn in January of this year, obviously imposed by Moscow, interrupted a number of legislative processes in the field of human rights and created uncertainty among civil society about the future of democratic processes,” he said.

Fautre wees op een onderzoek van Armeense NGO's waarin begin 56 zo'n 2015 afzonderlijke rechtenschendingen door de politie in een periode van drie maanden werden beschreven, waaronder 19 gevallen van vrijheid van vergadering.

He also highlighted particular problems in the judiciary, saying that Armenian society  “holds low trust” in the judiciary which is “permeated with corruption and remains largely under executive control.”

Hij zei dat het Armeense maatschappelijk middenveld het probleem als systemisch heeft omschreven, en voegde eraan toe dat slechts 15% van de Armeense burgers zei vertrouwen te hebben in het rechtssysteem, terwijl 53% zei dat ze het wantrouwden.

“This is not only my opinion but is an opinion raised by many international organizations and human rights NGOs.”

Further contribution came from Dr Mark Barwick, policy analyst of HRWF, who also addressed the issue of discrimination against the lesbian and gay community in Armenia, calling it a “lens” for which to view other human rights issues in the landlocked country.

“If you are gay Russia is one of the worst countries to live. But the problems of the LGBT community is emblematic of how minorities are treated generally in the country and how Russia has sought to exert its influence in the region. That’s the bigger picture,” he said.

He accused Moscow of “actively promoting” homophobia and hereby supporting campaigns against human rights defenders in Armenia, saying Russia had made “colossal efforts” to harden the position of the country’s political leaders towards the LGBT community.

“Gay people in Armenia are fearful of being outed into a hostile society where they are not understood or offered any sort of legal protection.”

In a question and answer session, Arman Israelian, a representative of Armenia’s embassy to the EU, questioned the scale of rights abuses in his country, saying it was wrong to describe it as “systemic”.

De diplomaat drong er ook op aan dat de Armeense autoriteiten zouden luisteren naar eventuele klachten van het maatschappelijk middenveld.

However, Fautre countered by stating that his assessment was based on the “many conversations” he had had over a period of time with numerous civil society groups in Armenia.

Fautre concluded by saying, “Armenia is currently swinging between Europe and Russia. Some are optimistic about the future, while others are not. But when it comes to human rights abuses we must all remain vigilant.”

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