Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Societal attitudes toward most minority religions were ambivalent. Unlike in 2005, Yezidi leaders said that they had received no reports that police and local authorities discriminated against them.
According to observers the general population viewed "non‑traditional" religious groups with suspicion and expressed negative attitudes about members of Jehovah's Witnesses because of their proselytizing practices and because they refused to serve in the armed forces. Members of Jehovah's Witnesses continued to experience occasional societal discrimination.
On March 17, two young members of the Union of Armenian Aryans, a small ultranationalist group, distributed a leaflet in the city of Vanadzor calling for death to members of religious sects. The staff of a local human rights NGO that reported the incident to the local prosecutor's office received e‑mailed death threats June 18.
There were reports of isolated incidents in which Protestants in rural areas were fired from their jobs because of their religious beliefs.
Jewish community leaders estimated the community's size at between 500 and 1,000 persons (the government does not provide official figures for religious adherents), but unlike in 2005, leaders of the Jewish community said that they had no reports of harassment of Jews during the year.
In September the environment minister, Vardan Ayvazian, publicly referred to representatives of a foreign mining company during a press conference as "kikes."
There were no reports that individuals or groups distributed anti‑Semitic literature.
Approximately one thousand Muslims resided in the capital. There was no formally operating mosque, although one surviving 18th century mosque in the capital remained open for Friday prayers without government interference, though it was not officially registered.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2006 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement Within The Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The law provides for these rights, but there were some restrictions in practice.
The government generally did not restrict internal movement. Corruption and an inefficient bureaucracy hindered citizens' efforts to register changes in their status, including changes in official places of residence. This hampered efforts to emigrate. To leave the country on a temporary or permanent basis, citizens must obtain an exit visa. Exit visas for temporary travel out of the country may be routinely purchased at a cost of approximately $2.80 (1,000 drams) for each year of validity and may be purchased when a passport is issued for the entire term of validity of the passport. Visas may also be obtained later. There was an official 10‑day waiting period for visas, but officials commonly agreed to expedite them in exchange for bribes up to about $30 (10,714 drams). Citizens who opted not to purchase the appropriate visas, but attempted to depart the country, were not permitted to leave.
The exit visa process is more difficult for citizens leaving the country permanently. The registration agency must deregister them, which entails sending queries to numerous other agencies to determine whether the citizen has any outstanding debts or obligations. The process commonly took several months to complete, and according to some citizens, authorities used the exit permit process to exact bribes which, by some accounts, totaled hundreds of dollars. Permission to depart the country permanently may be denied to persons who possess state secrets, are subject to military service, are involved in pending court cases, or who have outstanding financial obligations. Men of military age who have not completed service requirements must overcome substantial bureaucratic obstacles to travel abroad, including excessive delays in processing and officials soliciting bribes for exit stamps.
The law does not prohibit forced exile, but there were no reports that the government employed it.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) found in a study released in 2005 that 8,399 IDPs lived in the country. The NRC said the number did not change during the year.
During the country's war with Azerbaijan, the government evacuated approximately 65 thousand households from the border region, but most returned or settled elsewhere. Of the 8,399 remaining IDPs, almost two-thirds could not return to their villages, which were surrounded by Azerbaijani territory, and others chose not to return due to socio-economic vulnerability or a fear of land mines. IDPs enjoyed full rights as citizens, but the government did not provide special programs to help them adjust to their new surroundings. IDPs had access to international assistance programs and there were no reports of abuse of IDPs.
Protection of Refugees
The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status to persons in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government has established a system for providing protection to most refugees. In practice the government generally provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. The government granted refugee status or asylum during the year.
As of December 26, 646 persons had applied for asylum and the government granted 120 of those requests. Two were granted refugee status, and the government provided temporary protection to 118 individuals who did not qualify as refugees under the 1951 Convention and the 1967 protocol.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.
There was an established procedure for granting asylum; however, a combination of frequent rotations of inexperienced border officials and little training on asylum procedures, at times caused delays and difficulties with refugee processing at airports and land borders. International organizations asserted that Russian border guards usually came into first contact with would‑be asylum‑seekers at the borders with Turkey and Iran, as well as at the main international airport in Yerevan, and often refused them entry without informing either the government or the UNHCR. However, the Russian guards, who operated on the basis of an agreement between the two countries, were being phased out.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Although the law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, that right was restricted in practice due to repeated flaws in the conduct of elections.
Elections and Political Participation
International observers found the 2003 presidential and National Assembly elections to be well below international standards. There were serious irregularities, including ballot box stuffing, discrepancies in vote counts, partisan election commissions, and wide use of government resources to support the incumbent president. Domestic observers noted similar irregularities in local elections in September and October 2005.
In November 2005 a series of constitutional amendments were approved by a national referendum which made potentially significant changes in the division of powers between the branches. Although the balloting was conducted mostly without incident, Council of Europe observers reported discrepancies between the reported results and the apparent lack of turnout (a two-thirds majority of all registered voters was required for adoption, and a previous constitutional referendum had failed for lack of turnout). Domestic observers reported ballot stuffing, unauthorized individuals accompanying voters to the voting booths and ballot boxes to instruct them on how to vote, and intimidation of opposition observers. As it was technically not required to do so, the government declined to invite the OSCE to observe the voting process.
Authorities harassed opposition supporters. On March 4, the Ministry of Justice's Department of State Property Management, armed with a court order, evicted the opposition Heritage Party from its offices, ostensibly over a lease dispute. When the party staff was allowed to return temporarily on May 29, they reported that their central computer had been hacked on March 8. Party officials reported instances of harassment of party members throughout the country after March 8 and attributed them to the hacking of the computer, which contained addresses and telephone numbers of party members.
There was a widespread public perception, reflected in the press and the speeches of politicians, that a small elite of "oligarchs" exercised disproportionate influence on public affairs.
The Orinats Yerkir party lost many members following its withdrawal from the governing coalition on May 12. Party leader Artur Baghdasarian asserted later that the president's office had pressured them to leave the faction, and there were reports that members were threatened with loss of employment and the closure of their businesses.
There were seven women in the 131‑seat National Assembly but none in the cabinet.
There were no members of ethnic minorities in the National Assembly or cabinet.
Government Corruption and Transparency
Corruption was widespread, as was citizens' awareness of it. In an August Gallup poll commissioned by a foreign organization, one in 10 respondents, asked to name the most serious problem facing the country, named corruption, placing it in third place behind economic concerns and the problem of Nagorno‑Karabakh. The country scored 2.9 in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index. The index reflects the perceptions of business people and country analysts using a scale of zero to 10 with zero being considered highly corrupt. Amalia Kostanian, head of the local affiliate of Transparency International stated that the expert and public perception was that corruption was increasing. However, the public, which rarely protested practices such as routine bribe-paying, was generally politically apathetic and appeared to be resigned to the prevalence of corruption.
The government did not adequately maintain its own anticorruption programs. For example, an anticorruption council headed by the prime minister met only twice during the year, violating its own regulations, and a monitoring commission established by the council did not meet at all during the year.
According to the government, 69 government officials were charged in 46 corruption cases during the year. At least 16 of those officials were convicted under anticorruption laws. The disposition of the remaining cases was unclear at year's end.
The law provides for access to government information as well as for its dissemination, but in practice the government rarely provided access. In July the Yerevan mayor's office, which in 2005 was described by an NGO focusing on freedom of information as one of the worst providers of information access, set up an information center in city hall. Though the office was still in its infancy at year's end, the same NGO described the staff of the center as serious about its work.
Citizens had little awareness of their right to information, and those who were aware of this right were often unable to exercise them. The first instinct of government employees generally was to block access to information rather than to provide it. In some cases the officials themselves were not aware of laws providing for freedom of information.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restrictions, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.
During the year more than 20 independent local religious and human rights organizations and local affiliates of international organizations operated in the country. They included the Armenian Helsinki Committee, the Civil Society Institute, the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, Hope and Help, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Junior Achievement, Mission Armenia, the Open Society Institute, and Transparency International. The government, while not soliciting contacts with these organizations, generally did not deny requests to meet with domestic NGO monitors. Authorities followed some of their recommendations, particularly those related to social welfare, education, or those involving local matters.
With one possible exception, NGOs did not report experiencing reprisals for criticizing the authorities. On one occasion authorities subjected an NGO that had accused an official of wrongdoing in relation to trafficking, to an unexpected tax inspection (see section 5).
There was no progress in the investigation into the 2004 incident in which unknown persons beat Mikael Danielyan, the director of the Helsinki Committee human rights NGO, after Danielyan had given a controversial interview to an Azerbaijani newspaper. Authorities suspended the investigation shortly after the incident.
The government was generally cooperative with international NGOs. It permitted visits by international organizations to prisons and in the case of the ICRC, to detention centers operated by the police.
In 2005 the country's first human rights ombudsman complained that government interference, including a ruling by the Constitutional Court, limited her ability to influence the government's implementation of her recommendations. On February 17, the National Assembly elected a successor. One of his first actions was to petition the Constitutional Court to rule find government decision to expropriate residential houses and apartments in certain parts of downtown Yerevan to be unconstitutional (see section 1.e.). Although the court did so, it did not provide any remedies for the citizens deprived of their property without adequate compensation.
From February 17, when the new ombudsman took office, through December 11, the ombudsman's office received 1,178 citizen complaints. At year's end there was no information on the disposition of these complaints.
Section5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status, but there was societal discrimination against women, ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, and homosexuals.
There is no law against domestic violence. Few cases of spousal abuse or other violence against women were reported during the year, although such violence was believed to be widespread. While there was no recent information on the extent of the problem, in a 2001 survey, 45 percent of the (female) respondents acknowledged that family members subjected them to psychological abuse, and 25 percent considered themselves victims of physical abuse. Most cases of domestic violence were not reported to police because victims were afraid of physical harm, were apprehensive that police would return them to their husbands, or were embarrassed to make family problems public. Several NGOs in the Yerevan and Gyumri areas provided shelter and assistance, including psychological and legal counseling, to battered women.
Rape, including spousal rape, is a criminal offense and carries a maximum penalty of 15 years' imprisonment. In the first nine months of the year, authorities registered 31 cases of rape and attempted rape; however, societal stigma contributed to the underreporting of those crimes. Authorities prosecuted and convicted 14 individuals involved in seven cases of rape, and five individuals involved in three cases of attempted rape during the year. In 2005 authorities prosecuted 21 individuals charged with these offenses.
Prostitution and sex tourism are not illegal, but operating brothels is prohibited. Operating a brothel and engaging in other forms of pimping are punishable by one to 10 years' imprisonment. According to the NGO Hope and Help, there were fewer than 5,000 prostitutes, approximately 1,500 of them in Yerevan. Police and other security forces were complicit in, or tolerated, prostitution.
Trafficking in women for sexual exploitation was a problem (see section 5, Trafficking).
The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment, although it addresses lewd acts and indecent behavior. Society generally did not consider cases of sexual harassment important enough to justify legal action. Although there were no official statistics, sexual harassment appeared to be widespread.
Men and women enjoy equal legal status, although gender discrimination existed and was a continuing problem in the public and private sectors. According to a survey conducted 2005 in Yerevan, women earned on average 40 percent of what men earned. Women generally were not afforded the same professional opportunities as men and often were relegated to more menial or low‑skill jobs.
The government was committed to protecting children's rights and welfare, but it did not allocate resources sufficient to fulfill this commitment.
Education is free, universal, and compulsory through age 14; secondary education is provided through the complete secondary level. According to the UN Development Program, in 2003, 84 percent of students completed schooling through age 14, and 36 percent studied through age 16. Many facilities were impoverished and in poor condition. Access to education in rural areas remained difficult, and work in the fields during harvest season took precedence over school for many children. Lack of funding to provide heat prompted school officials in many areas to extend winter school breaks by as much as an additional month. Many teachers demanded bribes from parents in return for good or passing grades.
In 2005 the government began to focus on education reform, and the 2005‑2006 national budget included an allocation for increases in educators' salaries.
A 2004 survey commissioned by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) found that school drop‑out rates were high for children from poor communities. NGOs reported that school absenteeism was also on the rise.
A high percentage of children in the Yezidi community did not attend school, partly for economic reasons and partly because schools lacked Yezidi teachers and books in their native language. In September the government published and distributed Kurdish‑language primary school textbooks for Yezidi schoolchildren. The government also published Assyrian‑language primary school textbooks during the year.
Free basic health care was available to boys and girls through age eight but often was of poor quality, and officials often demanded overt or concealed payment for services.
Physical abuse of children was not believed to be a serious problem, and the prosecutor general's office did not report any cases during the year. UNICEF reported that psychological abuse was widespread and that in 2004 there had been a few registered cases of sexual abuse in special education schools.
Experts believed child marriage was a problem among the small Yezidi and Kurdish ethnic minorities, but there were no specific reports of this practice during the year.
Trafficking in girls for the purpose of sexual exploitation was a problem (see section 5, Trafficking).
Observers did not believe that child labor was a serious problem (see section 6.d.).
UNICEF reported that the number of children begging or working on the street appeared to be on the decline. Abuse of street children did not appear to be a serious problem.
Trafficking in Persons
Authorities reported that the country was a source and transit point for women and girls trafficked primarily for sexual exploitation to the United Arab Emirates and Turkey. It was also, to a lesser extent, a destination for women trafficked for sexual exploitation. There were also reports of men being trafficked to Russia for labor.
According to the general prosecutor's office, at least 40 persons were victims of trafficking during the year, including four victims exploited within the country and 36 exploited in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Russia. The general prosecutor's office also reported that 99 persons were victims of pimping during the year, including 38 exploited within the country and 61 exploited in the UAE and Turkey. Trafficking organizations typically recruited victims who were already engaged in local prostitution. The majority of identified victims were aware that they were being recruited to work in the sex industry in other countries; however, they were unaware of the traffickers' intent or the true exploitive circumstances of the conditions in destination countries. Once in the country of destination, victims were deprived of their travel documents, locked in hotel rooms, and told that they must "repay" their expenses. This initial consent, unfortunately contributed to an overall lack of identification of trafficking by authorities. There were reports that traffickers encouraged women to become recruiters, promising them that they could keep a percentage of their recruits' earnings. Women engaged in prostitution, orphans who had outgrown their institutions, the homeless, and those in difficult financial situations were at particular risk of being trafficked. Trafficking victims, who came largely from impoverished communities, were at greatly increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, and there were some reported incidents of physical violence.
The law prohibits trafficking in persons. On July 16, the National Assembly adopted legislation that toughened trafficking penalties. The new law made trafficking in persons punishable by imprisonment for three to 15 years, depending on whether there were aggravating factors such as the death of victims or involvement of a minor.
During the first nine months of the year, eight defendants were convicted under the trafficking statute, according to the prosecutor general's office. During that same period, courts convicted 18 defendants under the pimping statute.
On December 12, a court in Gyumri ruled on the country's first labor trafficking case, sentencing the trafficker, Ararat Muradyan, to five years' imprisonment. The court also ordered the defendant to provide financial restitution to the victims, the first order for restitution in any trafficking case. In April 2004 the three male victims, including a 16-year-old boy, had been sent to the Russian republic of Tatarstan for construction work; they were held against their will and forced to work for 16 months before the Tatarstan authorities freed them.
In November 2005 the prosecutor general's office opened a criminal case on charges of trafficking against Ashot Hovsepyan, and Sos Meliksetyan, a local nightclub manager. They were charged with trafficking four victims for work in a nightclub. This was the first clear indication that the country was a destination for trafficking. The NGO Hope and Help took the victims into its shelter. On January 8, a court sentenced Meliksetyan to two years' correctional labor, and a warrant for Hovsepyan's arrest was outstanding at year's end.
A governmental interagency commission, the national police, the prosecutor's office, and the NSS are responsible for coordinating and implementing antitrafficking policy and for combating trafficking. The government actively sought bilateral cooperation with several trafficking destination countries and regularly shared information with these partners.
Victims reported that Russian and Armenian border guards were easily bribed. Some prosecutors were also reportedly complicit in trafficking. Allegations of official complicity with traffickers continued to hurt the credibility of the government's antitrafficking efforts. There were persistent allegations that senior members of the prosecutor general's office were susceptible to outside influence. Some observers asserted that agreements between corrupt court officials and traffickers were also common. Unlike in previous years there were no reports that police employees and employees of the country's international airport assisted traffickers with transportation of victims to and through the country.
In February the government established a task force to investigate allegations of misconduct against an investigator in the prosecutor general's antitrafficking unit. After a cursory investigation, the task force reported no evidence of wrongdoing. In August a group of alleged trafficking victims, assisted by an NGO, brought new allegations of corruption and complicity against the same investigator and another official. A few days after the allegations were brought to the government's attention, tax inspectors launched an investigation into the NGO's finances (see section 4). The prosecutor general created a task force that included members of antitrafficking NGOs to investigate the officials, who remained in charge of the original case during the internal investigation. The internal investigation commission found no evidence of wrongdoing; however, the investigators were transferred out of the antitrafficking unit, and one was demoted from senior investigator to investigator.
Upon their return from abroad, many trafficking victims feared societal stigma and discrimination and were reluctant to help locate and prosecute their traffickers. Government officials did not require victims to provide such assistance, but they worked with victims who were willing to do so. Judges did not prosecute victims in trafficking cases for violating laws but often denied them counsel and subjected them to humiliating treatment during trials.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the NGOs Hope and Help, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and Democracy Today, operated assistance programs for trafficking victims with funding from foreign governments. Between March and November 14, UMCOR and Hope and Help shelters assisted 23 victims, more than in all of 2005. The government did not offer financial assistance but increasingly referred victims to these organizations. The NGOs maintained two hotlines for trafficking victims.
NGOs, international organizations, and the government conducted trafficking prevention activities, primarily educational and mass media programs to raise public awareness. International organizations trained the government's consular corps to identify signs of trafficking, and in June the government, with international assistance, published a manual with guidelines for interviewing and repatriating trafficking victims for use by consular officers abroad.
Persons With Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of other state services; however, discrimination was a problem. The law and a special government decree mandate accessibility to buildings for persons with disabilities, but in practice very few buildings and other facilities were accessible to them.
In September the government allocated about $33,000 (12 million drams) for the printing of Braille textbooks.
Institutionalized patients often lacked medication, and care was substandard. Hospitals, residential care, and other facilities for persons with serious disabilities were also substandard.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs was responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, but the government provided insufficient resources to the ministry to permit fulfillment of this responsibility.
The Yezidi community, which numbers between 30,000 and 40,000 persons according to its leaders, speaks a dialect of Kurdish and practices a religion derived from Zoroastrianism, Islam, and animism. Unlike in previous years, Yezidi leaders did not complain that police and local authorities subjected their community to discrimination. However, on December 7, a woman and three teenagers set themselves on fire in front of the presidential palace to protest the lack of local government response to the November murder of one of their relatives. Other Yezidi villagers involved in the protest said they believed the lack of response resulted from local government corruption rather than from discrimination.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Persons who were openly gay were exempted from military service, purportedly because of concerns that they would be abused by fellow servicemen. The local Helsinki Association and other observers reported cases of police harassment of homosexuals through blackmail, extortion, and, on occasion, violence.
On August 9, an openly gay businessman was found dead in his apartment. The police investigation focused mainly on the man's possible sexual partners. Local observers reported that in the course of the police investigation, officers indiscriminately rounded up gay men in a city park for questioning.
Many employers discriminated by age, most commonly requiring that job applicants be between the ages of 18 and 30. After the age of 40, workers, particularly women, had little chance of finding jobs appropriate to their education or skills.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides workers, except for those serving in the armed services and law enforcement agencies (see section 2.b.), with the right to form and to join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements, but most workers did not exercise this right in practice. Labor organizations remained weak because of employer resistance, high unemployment, and poor economic conditions.
The Confederation of Labor Unions (CLU) estimated there were 441,000 members of 24 trade unions. There were also other labor unions that did not belong to the CLU. Labor unions were generally inactive, with the exception of those connected with the mining industry. However, some mining enterprises, including some financed by foreign capital, discouraged employees from joining labor unions with the implied threat of loss of employment.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference. Although the law provides for collective bargaining, in practice there was none. Factory directors generally set pay scales without consulting employees. Regular or economic courts arbitrated labor disputes.
The law provides for the right to strike, except for members of the armed services and law enforcement agencies, but workers rarely went on strike. The law also prohibits retaliation against strikers, although it sometimes occurred.
In June 2005 the Ararat Gold Recovery Company (AGRC) fired 24 employees at its gold mining facility near Zod, allegedly for organizing a May 2005 strike over wages and workplace safety. AGRC initially dismissed 463 employees and required them to reapply for their positions; it did not rehire 11 employees who were members of the Lernagorts labor union and 13 unaffiliated employees. Four sued AGRC for reinstatement. One won the court case and was rehired but was fired again soon after. The other three lost their cases. AGRC maintained it fired the employees on legitimate grounds.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor, including by children; however, there were reports that such practices occurred (see section 5).
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
There are laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace. The minimum age for employment is 16; children may work from age 14 with parental and labor union permission. The Armenian State Labor Inspectorate is responsible for child labor law compliance, but the inspectorate, community councils, unemployment offices, and, as a final board of appeal, the courts, enforced the law unevenly. Children under the age of 18 are prohibited from working overtime or in harmful and dangerous conditions, at night, and on holidays.
According to the Employment Service Agency, some children were involved in family businesses, as well as in other activities not prohibited by law. Observers also reported seeing children in Yerevan selling flowers and working in local markets after school hours.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The government sets the minimum wage by decree. The monthly minimum wage of approximately $55.60 (20,000 drams) did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. While businesses generally observed the law for their registered employees, there were reports that employers did not register some employees and paid them lower than minimum wage. In 2004, the most recent year for which information was available, 6.4 percent of the population lived on less than $1 per day, while 34.6 percent lived on slightly more than that amount. The government did not enforce the minimum wage law effectively.
The law sets the workweek at 40 hours and provides for mandatory rest periods and overtime compensation. In the mining sector, employers allow limited sick leave with the presentation of a medical certificate. There were reports that employers fired employees who took extended sick leave.
In April 2005 the Employment Service Agency officially replaced the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs as the government's chief enforcement agency for workers' rights, occupational health, and safety standards. In its second year, the inspectorate made little progress toward implementing an inspection regime or the requirements of the labor code.
Workers had the legal right to remove themselves from work situations that endangered health and safety, but they were unlikely to do so because such an action would place their employment at risk, and jobs were scarce. The law requires the government to set occupational and health standards, but by year's end the government had not done so.