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Good Economy, Bad Behavior: Human Rights Watch report unflattering, but familiar

Armenian human rights development in 2005 was criticized this week in the annual report of the US based Human Rights Watch.

“Although the international community continued in 2005 to look favorably on Armenia for its economic performance, the government has failed to improve its human rights record,” says the Human Rights Watch World Report 2006 released Wednesday. The report refers to human rights development in sixty countries.

The report strongly criticized the Armenian law-enforcement authorities which use torture and ill-treatment when carrying out their work. “Torture usually occurs in pre-trial detention with the aim of coercing a confession or evidence against third parties. Abuse and mistreatment within the army is also widespread, with dozens of suspicious deaths occurring every year” reads the report.

It criticized the Armenian government for the crackdown on opposition parties’ rallies and restricting freedom of assembly. “The authorities have a history of putting pressure on human rights defenders who are critical of the government. In 2005, such pressure extended to the ombudsperson’s office,” says the report.

The report says that Armenia has significant independent and opposition print media, however it mentions that the government continued to restrict full media freedom in the country. Television channels A1+, Noyan Tapan, and Russian NTV, which had aired independent news coverage about Armenia, remained unable to broadcast because the government had taken away their broadcasting frequencies.

Referring to freedom of religion the report says that despite amendments to the law on alternative service introduced in November 2004, Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to be persecuted for their refusal to perform military service. According to the Armenian Helsinki Association, in September 2005 sixteen Jehovah’s Witnesses were serving prison terms, and nineteen were awaiting trial, for refusing to perform military service.

”Although the Council of Europe continued to engage Armenia to make progress in complying with its membership obligations, local groups criticized the organization for weak monitoring of those obligations and for approving the government-proposed amendments to the constitution. Many of Armenia’s obligations to the Council of Europe remain unfulfilled, including resolving the problem of the use of administrative arrests for political purposes, providing plurality in the electronic media, and resolving the issue of alternative service,” reads the report.

It also mentions that the United States and Russia continued to compete for influence in Armenia. The United States protested over the lack of transparency in the sale of Armenia’s electricity grid to a Russian company, which increased Russia’s hold over Armenia’s energy sector. Russia’s withdrawal from its bases in Georgia resulted in Russia relocating part of its military hardware to Armenia. “Increasing ties with the United States led to Armenia sending forty-six troops to join coalition forces in Iraq in January 2005. In March, Armenia and the United States signed an action plan regarding Armenia’s participation in the Millennium Challenge Account, a multi-million-dollar U.S. aid program. The action plan focuses on development of fiscal policy, banking, corruption, and agriculture.”

The full report can be found on http://www.hrw.org/wr2k6/eca/index.htm

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