Systemic Changes Needed to Protect Rights of People with Mental Illnesses
People with mental health problems need systemic reforms from a human rights perspective, with amended legislative regulations, said human rights defenders at the Media Center hosted discussion.

The discussion featured the investigation of Zhuleta Amarikyan’s lawsuit. Two years ago Zhuleta Amarikyan – according to her lawyer Tigran Hayrapetyan – was taken to Avan Psychiatric Center upon her relatives’ request (they are alleged to intend to take Amarikyan’s property and finances). The court decided on an application for compulsory treatment order. During the twenty-eight days Amarikyan spent in the psychiatric center she suffered from torture and inhuman treatment, the lawyer said.

“We have filed to the Special Investigation Service a motion on the conditions at the center and compulsory hospital admission. It is seven months the case has been investigated,” Hayrapetyan said. A psychiatric assessment is to be conducted to determine if the previous diagnosis was reasonable.

“The medical examination board includes the same specialists who conducted the previous screening and, apparently, they won’t turn down the decision they signed two years ago. We have objected and now are eager to involve international experts. Our proposal, however, was declined,” Hayrapetyan said, adding psychiatrists have unlimited privileges in the country.

Kristina Gevorgyan, head of the Foundation Against Violation of Law, told the journalists they have applied to several local experts to have an independent and impartial assessment but no one has so far agreed.

Chairman at HCA Vanadzor Artur Sakunts pointed out the challenges people with mental illnesses have to address in Armenia. They range from the availability of medical services to judiciary system.

“Amarikyan’s case is a proper occasion to voice about the lack of an independent examination agency in Armenia. Courts make verdicts based on the psychiatric assessment. Anyone can find himself in a psychiatric center. The legislation is still that of the Soviet period,” Sakunts said.

The Armenian justice system is so incomplete that human rights are easily violated at psychiatric centers and people with mental health problems are deprived of the right to partake in hearings at a court, said Haykuhi Harutyunyan, head of the Protection of Rights without Borders.

With respect to the decision of the Constitutional Court that a person with mental health problems may file a motion to the court to review their competence and attend hearings, Harutyunyan said: “It concerns only those individuals with mental illnesses who have been deprived of full capacity. But not all people with mental illnesses are deprived of full capacity.”

Hayrapetyan added: “We don’t have good specialists and well-developed criteria. And there is no court supervision over compulsory medical treatment. We should change the whole legislation.”

Lilit Arakelyan, Editor-Coordinator

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