Carnegie hosted Yerevan journalist Emil Danielyan, Yerevan legal expert Davit Khachaturyan, Baku legal expert Erkin Gadirli, Hikmet Hadjy-zadeh, president of the Far Centre for Economic and Political Research in Baku, and Giorgi Gogia, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in Tbilisi, to discuss the human rights situation in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. Anthony Richter of Open Society Institute moderated.

Problems with a Free Press in Armenia

  • Broadcast Media: Since the closure of the A1+ television station in 2002, the government strongly controls the broadcast media, the major source of information for most of the population. The only exception is the Gala television station in Armenia’s second city, Gyumri.
  • Print Media: Of the ten daily newspapers in Yerevan, only two or three can be characterized as pro-government, Danielyan said. This situation is tolerated by the government because print media has low circulations, Danielyan explained, although the government is still using libel suits and financial penalties against this media.
  • Online Media: the burgeoning online media, with dozens of news websites, is the most promising development for free media in Armenia, Danielyan said. The increasing availability of video content is slowly diminishing the importance of broadcast media, said Danielyan.

Human Rights in Armenia

  • Legal Foundation: Upon gaining independence, Armenia joined the United Nations in 1993, and adopted a constitution which guaranteed human rights in 1995, said Khachaturyan. Habeas corpus rights and presumption of innocence were recognized by law. In 2001, Armenia joined Council of Europe and recognized the mandatory jurisdiction of European Court of Human Rights.
  • Danger of Excuses: Several excuses are used to justify the violations of human rights in Armenia, such as:

    • Armenia inherited legal nihilism from Soviet Union.
    • Armenia is currently in “transition.” Khachaturyan countered this by asserting that “nothing is more permanent in the world than transition.”
    • Security and stability must take priority over human rights.
  • Decreased Role of Judiciary: Violations of human rights have diminished public trust in the rule of law, resulting in a decreased role of the judiciary, said Khachaturyan. 

Human Rights in post-Rose Revolution Georgia 

Following the Georgian Rose Revolution in 2003, the country’s judiciary, prisons, and police underwent dramatic changes and restructuring, a process that Gogia explained is still far from over.

  • Judiciary: Although the judiciary underwent some very dramatic reforms, Gogia said much remains to be done. There is still only a 0.01 percent acquittal rate in the country, indicating that rule of law remains incomplete.
  • Prisons: the prison population has increased four to five times over the recent years, said Gogia. This development reflects the government’s zero tolerance policy and the marginalization of dissenting opinion in Georgia, he added.
  • Police: Most alarmingly, the government is increasingly relying on a new police force it created after the Rose Revolution, Gogia said. There is general reluctance to prosecute abuses of power by the police, which limits the accountability of the police force. The police have a perception that they serve the government, not the people, asserted Gogia.
  • State Building Versus Human Rights: As with other South Caucasus countries, the Georgian government tends to create a false dichotomy between state-building and human rights, argued Gogia. They do not acknowledge that state-building projects cannot be completed without a strong foundation of rule of law and human rights, he added.

Human Rights in Azerbaijan

  • System-Wide Assessment: Azerbaijan has an overwhelmingly powerful president whose authority is not balanced by a strong parliament or judiciary, explained Gadirli. Trade unions have no power. He characterized the system as one in which “people pay bribes in order to get what they are legally entitled to” and in which well-educated people are forced to be in a situation of “skilled incompetence.” In this context, Gadirli said, Western governments should “stop pushing for cosmetic reforms” which often did more harm than good, as they discredited institutions, such as the ombudsman’s office, which had no real powers.
  • Alarming Human Rights Violations: In his overview of the human rights situation in Azerbaijan since independence, Hadjy-zadeh said that each year Azerbaijan imprisons 40-50 political prisoners, despite pressure from Europe. Other human rights violations in Azerbaijan include physical violence against journalists, censorship of the press, and the forcible eviction of 60,000 Azerbaijani citizens without proper compensation.