On February 24, Media Center had a live broadcast of the discussion on “Police reforms that changed nothing”. Speakers of the discussion were Artur Sakunts, Chairperson of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vanadzor Office, and Daniel Ioannisyan, Project Coordinator of “Union of Informed Citizens” NGO.
In the post-revolutionary Armenia, there are high expectations regarding police reforms, as during the rule of the former authorities, citizens perceived the police as a circle that protects representatives of the authorities against citizens. The discontent accumulated for years on end turned into a revolution, the purpose of which was to restore justice. Now that we witness a number of internal political challenges, cases can be seen when police representatives continue acting as they did previously, i.e., they use disproportionate force against citizens.
As Daniel Ioannisyan mentioned, major systemic reforms have taken place and they, as expected, encounter resistance of separate circles. Today, priority is given to the policeman’s knowledge and education, which will help avoid the workstyle based on a distorted system of values.
According to Artur Sakunts, the revolution made by the people and the values of that revolution are being deprived of their sense, when enough willingness and efforts are not in place for radical reforms. Before the war, the current authorities enjoyed public trust and it had to be the greatest impetus to carry out reforms and ultimately establish democracy. In Sakunts’s words, though systemic reforms cannot entail quick results, we have Georgia’s example, where fast systemic changes were made in the police system, even though there were still problems. Sakunts also pointed out the importance of oversight mechanisms: the agenda today has the matter of establishing a Ministry of Internal Affairs, however, it is necessary to have constitutional safeguards of separation from the Government.
In Artur Saknuts’s opinion, along the reforms raised, we see problems with the integrity of policemen, and the authorities’ political will can be decisive in this matter, as the position regarding changes must be substantiated by the steps taken today.
Considering the whole interpolitical picture, Artur Sakunts mentioned that today we witness the consequences of not making exact changes in the old system. And it should be recorded that for the first time in the history of Armenia, the ideology of protesters is based on anti-democracy, manifested by violence, calls for restricting the work of NGOs and attacks on journalists, which we saw a few days ago.
In these terms, it is important for the authorities to continue acting in the legal field. For example, the law on defamation and restrictions of mass media activity in Syunik region show that the authorities do not fully understand the principle of the rule of law.
With regard to civil society, Artur Sakunts mentioned that today’s imperative is to remain in the position of the principle of the rule of law, to speak and demand certain steps from the authorities from that position.
Referring to the circulating thesis that not holding liable the revolutionaries who invaded the House of Radio contradicts the ruling party’s deputy Andranik Kocharyan’s announcement regarding the right of power structures to use gunfire to prevent attacks on the Government’s buildings, Artur Sakunts mentioned that these are manipulative and targeting comparisons. First of all, at the time of invading the House of Radio, the Government was to be the one condemning that action, but they did not do anything, because they had no legitimacy of any step. And now that the forces demanding the Prime Minister’s resignation threaten to capture buildings, one should demand from the ruling authorities the same inaction that was manifested by the former ones.
Coming back to the topic of war, Artur Sakunts highlighted once again that the whole tragedy lies in both the former and the current authorities. The former authorities handed the gas supply and security system over to another state and thus created dependence on it, consistently undermined the state for 20 years on end, and by doing so, they themselves capitulated the country. And the current authorities, being well aware that the state system is completely rotten, did not have the willingness of fast and radical changes, and are fully responsible for the current situation.
In this very context, the speakers came to the conclusion that in order to overcome this deadlock, it is necessary to take decisive steps to reform the whole system.
The full video is available here: