PACE adopted a resolution on Restrictions on NGO activities in Council of Europe member States and based on it, made recommendations to the Council of Europe member states. We hereby present the recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly and the relevant situation in Armenia.
The Assembly recalls that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are a key component of an open and democratic civil society and make an essential contribution to the development and realisation of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. However, the civil society space continues to shrink in several Council of Europe member States, particularly in the case of NGOs working in the field of human rights, and the Assembly considers it concerning. Moreover, certain NGOs are the subject of smear campaigns and their activists suffer threats and reprisals.
It should be mentioned that NGOs promoting human rights and democracy values are targeted. Today, we see that after the revolution, some public groups are against human rights and democratic values, these groups target and voice threats against the NGOs operating on the basis of those values for years on end, while the current authorities do not properly resist and prevent such attacks.
Some groups present themselves as NGOs, whose activity revolves around hate speech and discrimination, they struggle against NGOs guided by human rights and democratic values.
We witnessed such attacks in Armenia over the past three years. They are manifested by dissemination of directed misinformation in social networks and attacks on offices. In particular, on the night of 9 November 2020, OSF-Armenia office was attacked, and to date, the authorities have not given an assessment to that attack.
A vivid example of a smear campaign is the speech delivered by the RA NA MP Taguhi Tovmasyan during the NA session invited on 22 January 2021 for the selection of the Supreme Judicial Council members. In her opinion, one of the candidates, being an employee of the OSF-Armenia, acted against Armenia, and according to the protocol of the Commission on the Prevention of Corruption, that fact had a negative impact on the candidate’s rating.
The Commission on the Prevention of Corruption, surely, responded and stated that the information publicized by Taguhi Tovmasyan was not presented in the conclusion of the Commission on the Prevention of Corruption.
HCA Vanadzor applied to the RA NA President Ararat Mirzoyan in a letter and drew his attention to the condition that the NA MP Taguhi Tovmasyan, ignoring the role and mission of the MP in strengthening the principles of a democratic state governed by the rule of law, made a statement that devalued the principles of a democratic state governed by the rule of law.
HCA Vanadzor urged the NA President to apply to the Ad-hoc Committee on Parliamentary Ethics regarding the behaviour of MP Taguhi Tovmasyan and thus give an adequate assessment to MPs’ anti-constitutional, anti-democratic behaviour devaluing human rights.
During the PACE 2021 winter session, ″Prosperous Armenia″ party MPs Naira Zohrabyan and Mikayel Melkumyan touched upon the illegal arrest of the RF opposition politician Alexei Navalny and stated that ″the people (acolytes) of Soros″ have a destructive role in Armenia.
In particular, Naira Zohrabyan qualified A. Navalny as ″an acolyte of Soros″ and drew parallels with the RA, mentioning that the metastases of ″Soros″ destroy the value system of countries, as they have done in Armenia.
Mikayel Melkumyan expressed the same thought, mentioning that ″the people of Soros″, supporting the revolution and making use of the deficit of justice, implemented an anti-national policy and led to a defeat.
In the mentioned examples, the National Assembly MPs carry out a campaign targeted at the NGOs of Armenia.
For the implementation of the campaign, even the platform of an international organization such as the PACE is used, which proclaims and maintains the principles necessary for the activity of NGOs.
The Assembly also records that certain member States’ legislation impose excessive reporting and public disclosure obligations on NGOs receiving funding from abroad. Imposing the obligations on NGOs is done for the purpose of combating terrorism, money laundering or preventing foreign political influence. The Assembly stresses that States must draw a clear distinction between “reporting obligations” and “public disclosure obligations”.
In case of Armenia, the RA Draft Law ″On making amendments and addenda to the RA Law on Non-Governmental Ogranizations″ was brought into effect. The draft is based on the requirements of recommendation 8 of FATF, according to which, countries must review the risks of terrorist financing.
HCA Vanadzor qualified this draft as a measure of undue state interference under the guise of publicity, which can be assessed as hindering the activity of NGOs.
The Assembly was pleased to note that certain member States have amended their legislation concerning NGOs and established an environment conducive to civil society activities.
We are hopeful that in the near future, Armenia will also take into account the Assembly’s recommendations, undertake its obligations and support civil society activities aimed at the formation of a democratic and open state.
Ensuring of the necessary conditions for the activity of non-governmental organizations by the state implies not only formation of legislative safeguards, but also prevention of hate speech and threats against non-governmental organizations and their representatives, as well as presentation of a clear position regarding such cases and effective investigation into them.