The Institute for War and Peace Reporting Armenia Branch, in cooperation with the Public Journalism Club and its project Media Center, held “Need for Anti-Discrimination Law and Manifestations of Discrimination in Armenia” discussion. Sergei Gabrielyan, head of Nor Serund (New Generation) humanitarian NGO, Arman Sahakyan, member of Nor Serund NGO, Maro Khachaturyan, lawyer of Arman Sahakyan, Hasmik Harutyunyan, expert of the Protection of Rights without Borders NGO; and Isabella Sargsyan, Program Director at the Eurasia Partnership Foundation shared their thoughts on the issue.
The Kentron and Nork-Marash district court in the capital Yerevan ordered Iravunk to publish on its website a retraction of the May 2014 article, which it deemed defamatory, and instructed Galajyan to pay the plaintiffs damages of 250,000 drams each.
Arman Sahakyan’s lawyer Maro Khachaturyan describes the May 14 ruling as a positive step forward given that there has never been a precedent in the country.
“The verdict may be considered as a true achievement as in March, Armenia’s highest court of appeal rejected a case brought by 16 other individuals who alleged that Iravunk had defamed and discriminated against them in the same manner. However, the court deemed Galajyan’s article defamatory without fixing that it also contained discrimination and hate speech. The verdict documents that we have failed to prove the article had a deliberate call for discrimination and hate speech,” Khachaturyan said.
Khachaturyan says it has been rather difficult for her to prove the article called for discrimination and contained hate speech without a separate anti-discrimination law though she referred to the Constitution of Armenia, European Convention and several international agreements Armenia has ratified.
Galajyan’s article named 60 people as “enemies of the people and the state” and, moreover, it went on to call for discrimination and misrepresent the activities of the Nor Serund NGO, Sergey Gabrielyan believes.
“Various state agencies are spreading hatred and disgust towards us, that we protect gay rights. Soon after the article publication the windscreen of Arman’s car was broken. We have requested police service to ensure our safety, but they refused, telling us that this is a paid service and that we should apply to a private security agency. So, we citizens cannot be protected,” Gabrielyan says.
The plaintiff Arman Sahakyan says the article in the Iravunk newpaper called for “zero tolerance” and urged public- and private-sector employers not to hire or dismiss any of the 60 individuals “on the black list.”
The most vulnerable groups in the country are LGBT people, injecting drug users, commercial sex workers, religious and ethnic minorities, Gabrielyan says.
“Interestingly, these groups are reluctant to accept one another and they have manifestations of discrimination within the groups as such. There are also cases of discrimination in the army, hospitals, prisons, among public and private sector employers and some NGOs that position themselves as patriots and protectors of Armenian traditions,” Gabrielyan says.
Earlier Hovhannes Galajyan and his lawyer Levon Baghdasaryan refused to participate in the discussion.
Hasmik Harutyunyan says that although there are a few codes fixing equality and prohibition of discrimination, Armenia definitely needs a separate law.
“We have provisions in the law on education, Criminal Code, Constitution, but they are all declarative and a person who suffers discrimination may not demand justice. There is no legal basis to refer to. We also lack a classic definition of discrimination as well as of various types of discrimination,” Harutyunyan says.
Isabella Sargsyan spoke on the research the Eurasia Partnership Foundation conducted and said in Armenia discrimination does not only refer to marginal minorities.
“It concerns us all and everyone, including women, persons with disabilities and imprisoned people. Anyone in this or in another situation can become a discrimination victim. It refers to direct and associative discrimination. The Ministry of Justice is currently great interested in collaborating and developing a separate anti-discrimination law,” Sargsyan said.
Along with legislative reforms, it is important to have a long-term public awareness campaign, the speakers believe.
“On the one hand there should be a law, but, on the other hand, we have to work within NGOs to ensure that the law is enforced. With a law, it is impossible to achieve results in the courts if there is no work with the public, the law will remain a dead letter. That's a long way for all of us. We want all citizens to have both equal rights and equal opportunities,” Sargsyan said.
Lilit Arakelyan, Editor-Coordinator
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