Potential difficulties for NGOs, should proposed amendments be approved
New Rules for Armenian Civil Society
The Armenian authorities have proposed new changes to the law on non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Under the new amendments, civil society will have to re-register, make statutory changes and report to the tax authorities (State Revenue Committee). The debate over changing the laws regulating the work of NGOs is not a new one. Some changes are necessary and some could potentially create difficulties for civil society.
According to the Armenian Lawyers Association expert, Marat Atovmyan, during the re-registration process NGOs could potentially face problems in terms of name registration, given that the proposed changes require the name of the organisation to be derived from its functions or activities and it cannot include words from foreign languages. Another important change concerns the state authority that will be responsible for the activities of NGOs. To date, the Ministry of Justice has been responsible for this function, but under the amendment, the State Revenue Committee will administer the regulations for NGOs and their activities, and this could potentially create confusion among civil society as to whom they are accountable for reporting.
Lawyer Arayik Papikyan spoke about the threats addressed to him and his family in the press conference.... https://t.co/iubJPh6gh7— Aravot Daily (@AravotDaily) August 18, 2017
Human Rights Defenders and Lawyers Threatened
The Helsinki Association in Armenia has warned of the threats and pressure that human rights defenders and lawyers have recently been subjected to in Armenia. According to the Association, its lawyers have been harassed while performing their professional duties. According to the same source, harassment, threats and discrimination against lawyers and human rights defenders by the authorities (state institutions and agencies and the police) have become commonplace. For example, the Helsinki Association’s lawyer Arayik Papikyan has received threatening e-mails, warning him to abstain from performing his professional duties and activities, otherwise his family members will face harmful consequences.
International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) reported on similar high profile cases in which the lawyers working on the cases involving Sasna Tsrer group members were subjected to harassment and pressure. The lawyers were also prevented from visiting their clients in detention. Other reported cases of the obstruction of justice included the confiscation or destruction of evidence and notes from the meetings of lawyers with their clients. Several lawyers were not able to prepare their defense. However, according to IPHR, other lawyers did not experience the same issues. These cases and examples suggest that the lawyers and human rights defenders were selectively targeted.
Religious Association Rights in 2016
In August 2017, the United States Department of State released its annual report on freedom of religion in Armenia for 2016. The report showed a relatively high degree of respect for religious beliefs among society in 2016, but there were reported cases in which the right was violated in several settlements in Armenia. Some of the cases had a political connection. For example, according to the authors of the report, supporters of a political party physically attacked the pastor of an evangelical church for refusing to promote the party. The report covering 2016 also documented cases of minority religious groups facing discrimination.
Human rights watch is continuing its focused pursuit on police violence in Armenia and the authorities' mostly... https://t.co/7EvuBHGGLx— Arsinée Khanjian (@ArsineeKhanjian) August 1, 2017
Police Not Yet Held Accountable
More than a year has passed since the violent clashes between protesters and police in Yerevan, yet the Armenian authorities have failed to hold those accountable for police violence. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the police violence has not fully been addressed due to a lack of political will. HRW has reported 32 cases of indicted protesters, 21 cases of convicted persons, and at least 11 people sentenced to prison in Armenia in connection with the July 2016 protests. In addition, protests in recent years, and especially those in which the police have used physical violence against peaceful demonstrators, has contributed to a decline in the level of trust in law enforcement. Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus Directer at HRW, declared:
"A year after Yerevan's July protests, victims of police violence are still waiting for justice and accountability. The public's trust in police and the justice system is severely shaken, and an effective accountability process is essential for restoring it".