New NGO rules welcomed by civil society
In early October, Armenia's national assembly passed a number of draft amendments to laws governing nongovernmental organisations. Local media highlighted that under the amendments proposed by the government a distinction would be made in future between organisations funded through public resources and those funded from private sources. Local group Helsinki Citizens Assembly-Vanadzor said they were broadly satisfied with the changes made and that their earlier concerns that the government was seeking to use the amendments to exert greater control over the sector had not been borne out. Further changes to the rules governing the nonprofit sector in Armenia are also in the pipeline. According to reports, Armenia’s Minister of Justice Arpine Hovhannisyan noted recently that Armenian NGOs will be allowed to carry out business activities. The bill's content has been previously discussed with representatives of NGOs, international agencies and other interested parties. The minister stated that
“The principle of the bill is to prevent our unnecessary interference, with proper control...According to the bill, both individual citizens and legal entities can be NGO members. NGOs have been given a chance to launch business activities, and they can establish or share in a commercial organization.”
On 19th October, protests took place in Yerevan to call for the release and acquittal of nine men, who had been arrested and charged following mass demonstrations in July. As previously reported on the Monitor, large protests over several days in July had been met with excessive force, mass arrests and physical abuse of journalists by police. The men have been charged with violence against law enforcement officers during the clashes; if convicted, they face up to 10 years in prison. An international civil society mission investigating the events of July concluded that a series of human rights violations had taken place including the use of excessive force against protestors; arbitrary detention of protestors; and physical assaults on journalists. The report by the International Partnership for Human Rights called on the authorities to conduct 'prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into all allegations of unlawful conduct by law enforcement officials.'
A new report by the European Commission on Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has commended Armenia for its determination to fight, racism, hate speech and intolerance. The report, released on 4th October, however also points to some legislative gaps and a lack of progress on investigating and prosecuting reports of hate crimes and discrimination. The ECRI also noted a rise in hate speech leading to violence, the main targets of which are members of the LGBT community and non-traditional religious groups. Christian Ahlund, the ECRI Chair said:
“According to the official data, only three offences have been investigated since 2011 resulting in one conviction. Victims are apparently unwilling to report the crimes to the police. I call on the authorities to make sure that all cases of public incitement to violence and hatred, especially threats against LGBT persons and people promoting their rights, be investigated and prosecuted.”