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Emergency 2020: Report on human rights violations by the Police

April 28, 2021

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Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor presents an information paper on human rights violations by the Police in 2020, per the monitoring of web pages of mass media, RA Police and RA Special Investigative Service.

 

Emergency 2020 

 

Monitoring results show that the police were not ready to confront the problems that arose during the crisis situations. Policemen did not manifest necessary and adequate professional skills, consistency and will to function exclusively in line with the requirements of the law, in compliance with their powers and functions, to prevent criminal activities, punish those guilty, by simultaneously not violating RA citizens’ rights and not hindering their exercise. 

 

The rallies and protests - such as the protest of cattle breeders against the slaughter of animals in the slaughterhouse, rallies of parents of servicemen who died in the army in non-combat conditions - organized during the first quarter of 2020 were held without Police interference. 

 

A number of human rights were restricted due to the emergency state regime declared on 16 March 2020 in order to prevent COVID-19 pandemic, and then the martial law declared as a result of the war unleashed by Azerbaijan against Artsakh/NK on 27 September 2020. Law enforcement bodies, especially the Police had an essential role in the oversight over the implementation of the above-mentioned decisions.The emergency regime and martial law prohibited organizing, conducting and participating in rallies and strikes. However, citizens organized protest rallies, during which the response of law enforcement bodies was not uniform, predictable, legal and proportionate. The Police did not interfere in, for example, rallies with a lot of participants, in certain cases they simply urged the participants to keep physical distance, in other cases, participants were arbitrarily apprehended (sometimes even before the launch of the protest rally). Moreover, though rallies and strikes, as well as public events with participation of 20 and more persons were prohibited, the Police apprehended even those conducting a protest action alone, whereas in the sense of the law, participation of two or more persons is a compulsory element for the rally. 

 

The Police also continued

 

✔️ to arbitrarily apprehend and make administrative protocols (for example, the incidents in Kapan in May 2020), 

✔️to use force against activists, and to allow a rally in one case, and then prohibit a similar rally in another case (for example, actions against activists that protested the exploitation of Amulsar in August 2020),

✔️to manifest inaction and inconsistency, in particular, with respect to hate and threatening speech, actions of violence,

✔️to involve plain clothes persons and also persons dressed in black clothes and covered with masks in police actions in the post-war Armenia, while the law requires that it be possibe to identify the policeman exercising public oversight.

 

After the revolution of 2018, public activity grew. A number of new initiatives and movements emerged simultaneously, which positioned in the public field as civil society institutes. However, their agenda did not focus on protecting and promoting human rights and democratic values, on the contrary, they focused on struggling against human rights and democracy values in Armenia, accompanied by calls and expressions provoking hatred, violence and physical threats. The Police not only do not prevent actions of such initiatives and movements hindering the process of promoting human rights and democracy developments in Armenia, they even ensure the unobstructed implementation of those actions; whereas, such actions cannot be protected in a democratic state governed by the rule of law.  Such an attitude comes to indicate once more that the law enforcement system does not have the ability to correctly assess facts and properly respond to new challenges threatening the principles of a democratic and legal state. 

 

The conduct of the Police was also not proportionate in terms of individual cases. During the actions aimed at the prevention of the spread of the pandemic, as a result of arbitrary approach of police officers, certain citizens suffered, while the Police did not respond adequately and manifested inaction, as well as discriminatory attitude when officials of high positions, in particular, NA MPs publicly breached pandemic-related rules. In separate cases, the Police ignored crowdings and fined only those who moved without masks; in once case, the Police also used force against one citizen. Moreover, policemen themselves often did not observe the rules established for the prevention of the pandemic and exercised control in groups and without masks. 

 

The numbers summed up also evidence that in the post-revolution Armenia, violation of the RA citizens’ rights is of continuous nature. Based on the data, we can state that the reduction in the number of violations of RA citizens’ rights in 2019 (90 cases in 2019, 192 cases in 2020) is conditioned by the small number of rallies and their content. Last year, there were also cases of violence and ungrounded actions of apprehending participants of protests against the authorities and exploitation of Amulsar (see HCA Vanadzor 2019 information paper on cases of human rights violations by the Police).

 

As compared to 2019, there was a twofold increase in the number of human rights violations by policemen in 2020. Moreover, in the second post-revolution year, the number of human rights violations by the Police exceeded the number of human rights violations that occurred during the year of revolution and were mostly related to the revolution. Moreover, individual human rights violations amounted to 60․5% of the total number of human rights violations in the first half of 2020; during the second half of 2020, human rights violations during rallies prevailed (73%).   

 

The thing is that during the first half of the reporting year, the Policemen were given the function to control the observation of pandemic-related rules in the Republic, in particular, restrictions of free movement and the requirement to wear personal protective equipment. The policmen had the legal toolkit for holding offenders liable, and yet, they resorted to illegal actions, violence, involved plain clothes persons in actions of  setting requirements before the citizens and even apprehending them; whereas, the law requires that policemen wear the relevant uniform and be identifiable when they ensure public order. Policemen manifested selective approach to offenders and in some cases even ignored obvious offences.   

 

During the second half, especially during the post-war period, protest actions against the authorities’ actions intensified. During those actions, policemen often resorted to the use of disproportionate force and illegal actions of detaining participants of protest actions by arbitrarily apprehending them, manifested gender-based discriminatory approach by ordering not to apprehend girls. Also, in certain cases, masked persons were involved in police actions.

 

The issue of transparency of SIC activity is also problematic. In post-revolution years, there was a reduction in the number of publications by this body - that conducts investigation into policemen’s illegal actions - on cases of human rights violations. In 2020, 61 publications were posted in the “News” section of SIC website, only one of which concerned an alleged case of torture by policemen. However, in only two months, 8 citizens applied to HCA Vanadzor, presenting cases of degrading actions, physical and psychological violence, torture by policemen.

 

Combining and summing up Police actions before and after the Revolution, we can state that the practice of using force and degrading treatment towards citizens in police subdivisions continues (see HCA Vanadzor 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 information papers on human rights violations by the Police).  

 

Thus, the non-implementation of reforms in the law enforcement system, made more striking, especially in crisis situations, the negative impact of unresolved problems recorded in Police system for years on end, which lead to gross violations of human rights. 

 

The full information paper is available HERE  (in Armenian)

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