“Human Rights in the Armed Forces: Summary of 2016”
Before Army Day, a discussion entitled “Human Rights in the Armed Forces: Summary of 2016” was held at Media Center on January 26.

Alik Avetisyan, Head of the Human Rights and Discipline Center of RA Ministry of Defense, Lieutenant-Colonel, Janna Aleksanyan, Head of the “Journalists for Human Rights” NGO, Arthur Sakunts, Head of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor Office and Armen Grigoryan, Project Officer of “Strengthening the application of European human rights standards in the armed forces” Program of the Council of Europe, participated in the discussion.
Artur Sakunts said during the discussion that there was no human rights improvement in the armed forces in 2016 either in terms of the number of deaths, or disciplinary sanctions.

“Were the necessary institutional changes made in order to eliminate the factors worsening the human rights situation in the armed forces or the factors affecting the situation of human rights negatively? Unfortunately, I have to state that there have been no such institutional changes. It comes right from the beginning of muster. The concerns about the recruitment of young people with serious health problems and a number of diseases are still valid,” Sakunts said.

He notes that violations are much more than complaints because people are afraid to complain and have no confidence that they will not be subjected to prosecution.
“The biggest challenge in 2016 was the April hostilities. I won’t stop insisting, demanding that the circumstances that led to deaths during the April war should be investigated, and presented to the public and first of all to relatives. Secrecy of the circumstances of deaths during the military operations cannot be justified. The Ministry of Defense has only one approach over this, even assessments are made by the Defense Minister, absolutely justifying its irresponsibility towards the people, for whom it is responsible, because these people were under the direct control of the Defense Ministry and the state. We do not see any steps towards the establishment of the military ombudsman which was stipulated by the decision of the government,” Sakunts said.

According to him, there was absolutely no justification why the introduction of the institute of military ombudsman was delayed, as one of the most important institutions for the protection of human rights.

“In terms of the organization of internal discipline, responsibility increase, and external factors, which should result in favorable conditions and reduce the challenges associated with the violations of the ceasefire, we expect to see the efforts that will be focused on the protection of human rights. The security should be based on human dignity, the protection concerns with all its mechanisms. We cannot replace the unresolved problems with people's lives,” Sakunts added.

Janna Aleksanyan said that the year of 2016 was full of concerns as the cases of killings and suicides increased, which had been reduced in previous years.

“In 2016, during the April war, there were very high patriotic displays and the society was encouraged by heroism of the soldiers but at the end of the year, due to the non-statutory relations the number of victims had increased, which is very worrisome. What is being done to eliminate it? It is possible to collect the data and see if there are 5 cases in a military base, what is the Ministry of Defense doing? If we see that during the investigation efforts are made to uncover those crimes, it would be very good, and this is why the environment of impunity is maintained in the army,” Aleksanyan said.

Alik Avetisyan said that the Human Rights and Discipline Center of RA Ministry of Defense, which was established at the end of 2015, aims to coordinate the work of various institutions in the armed forces, to synthesize their capacities and implement it all within the framework of Armenia's international obligations.

“Taking into account the cases of torture, providing the right of life also providing the political and social life of servicemen, considering the further developments, the April events, and the concerns raised by the civil society, we decided at the end of 2016 that the center should function not just as coordinating body in fact but as a permanent establishment, which will try to conduct internal control over the procedures in the field of human rights and discipline. The first step was the establishment of the hotline, which was launched on January 10 this year. On the first day, the hotline received about 360 calls,” Avetisyan said.

According to him, the aim of the hotline is to provide feedback to the Human Rights and Discipline Center, which is directly subordinate to the Ministry of Defense.

“In other words, it keeps direct contact with the beneficiaries, who have some relations with the army, private problems can be raised. This means providing feedback in a sense that we get information on specific cases, and if these cases are repeated, and there are difficulties in law enforcement, we will try to find systemic solutions,” Avetisyan said.

Referring to the soldiers who died in peace, Avetisyan said that post-war syndromes should be taken into account.

“If social-psychological numerous researches, surveys are conducted or if we review the international experience, we will see that such situations proceed under stressful conditions, when there are serious social psychological problems during the post-war period, or the accumulated stress gets and multiple problems arise in this case,” Avetisyan said.

Armen Grigoryan, speaking about “Strengthening the application of European human rights standards in the armed forces” Program of the Council of Europe, said that this was the initiative of the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry expressed willingness to maximally change the situation of human rights in the army.

The program duration is 28 months and includes conducting activities in several directions.

“First of all, legislation, regulations and laws concerning the improvement of soldiers' rights should be refined. Another direction is raising awareness of human rights in the armed forces. We will try to implement not a separate but more systematic educational program in the armed forces. Another direction is to improve the control mechanisms of NGOs, human rights institutions, Ombudsman office over the situation of human rights in the armed forces, as well as their capacity building through trainings,” Grigoryan said.

He said that one of the priorities of the program is the prevention of the human rights violations, the development of effective mechanisms to investigate violations.

"In addition to the legislative solutions, we should try to develop rights protection mechanisms in this framework, which should make the provisions laid down by law maximum effective," he added.

To watch the video, follow the link. 

Lilit Arakelyan, editor/events coordinator at “Media Center”
To contact the author please send an email to lilitarakelyan@pjc.am.

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