Helsinki Citizens' Assembly-Vanadzor

Joint Announcement on the Termination of the Monitoring Group in Care Institutions

May 31, 2024

Joint | Announcements | Publications

On May 30, 2024, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs of the Republic of Armenia notified the Monitoring Group in Care Institutions that it had decided to revoke the order establishing the group. This means that the existence and activities of the group are now de jure terminated.

 

The ministry justified this step by claiming that the ministerial order from 2018 was individual, not normative in nature, which is technically correct. The ministry stated that in the future, an authorizing norm will be added to any relevant law, after which a new order to create a monitoring group in care institutions will be adopted. However, no specific or approximate date was provided.

 

This development suggests a pretextual justification. The decision to revoke the order appears to be a legal guise to eliminate the public monitoring mechanism. 

 

Internal discussions about terminating or limiting the Group's powers began within the Ministry after the monitoring group published several notable reports last year. In mid-2023, the group reported severe human rights violations, including physical, sexual, and psychological violence, at the "Zatik" Children's Support Center.

 

Subsequent discussions with the Ministry did not lead to systemic changes, likely due to decision-makers' reluctance. The report's findings were questioned on spurious grounds, and there were even threats that observers could be held liable for "defamation." 

 

The reports did not lead to significant changes in the children's lives, neither preventing new rights violations nor restoring rights.

 

The monitoring group's report garnered attention from the public, media, and various international actors, including mentions in the US State Department's 2023 Human Rights Report (link) and Human Rights Watch (link). Despite numerous violations, no criminal cases were initiated, and no officials were held accountable.

 

In practice, the group's activities had already been disrupted by mid-2023. According to the order, group members' powers were set for three years and could not be extended. The terms of many members had expired, and the group lacked the minimum nine established members. Adding new members had become impossible due to numerous legal loopholes.

 

The Ministry was aware of these legal issues long before they arose, as the observation group had presented a set of recommendations to solve them. Despite this awareness, the Ministry did not amend the legal acts in a timely manner. Promised discussions about changes to the ministerial order were regularly postponed, leading to the group's de jure closure due to deliberate actions by Ministry officials.

 

The observation group believes this "punitive" action by the Ministry is a response to the group's activities and an attempt to stop public scrutiny of the human rights situation in care institutions, potentially covering up human rights violations.

 

We urge the Ministry to show common sense by making all necessary efforts to resume the group's activities as soon as possible. According to state obligations, the Ministry is obliged to continuously support the development of public control mechanisms, regardless of public criticism.

 

We hope the Ministry will learn from this situation, recognizing that many other legal acts could be questioned with this approach, leading to chaos if suspended even short-term, while failing to acknowledge their invalidity would be seen as a discriminative approach.

 

We call on the media to focus on the human rights situation in institutions, particularly orphanages and crisis centers. 

 

We expect international organizations to ensure the absolute right to be free from torture in Armenia's care institutions and keep human rights issues on the agenda in their discussions with the government, making them a prerequisite for economic programs.

 

We also expect the embassies of democratic states and international organizations to advocate for the urgent resumption of the group's activities. The actions of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs should be a subject of discussion in the context of freedom of expression and monitoring of human rights.

 

Signing Members:

Disability Rights Agenda NGO

Helsinki Citizens' Assembly–Vanadzor

Health Policy and Innovation Center NGO

“Pink” Human Rights Defender NGO

“Kanani” NGO

Women’s Rights House NGO

“Ekho” Disability Rights NGO

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