HRW on Armenia in 2020: police violence, the Karabakh war and the coronavirus
The main events in Armenia in 2020 included the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the second Karabakh war.
The defeat in the war caused an acute political crisis in Armenia, as the opposition has been since demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
In its report on Armenia for 2020, Human Rights Watch examined all these events and human rights issues in the country.
The HRW report said that on September 27, Azerbaijan launched a military offensive which led to an escalation of hostilities between Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as the de facto authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The report stated that the parties violated international humanitarian law, which “resulted in the injury of civilians”:
HRW report also noted that the Armenian military used banned cluster munitions in populated areas, which “led to dozens of civilian casualties”:
“During the conflict, Armenian forces carried out indiscriminate attacks, launched unguided artillery missiles, and fired heavy artillery shells and ballistic missiles at populated areas. Moreover, some of the attacks were carried out in areas with no obvious military targets, which resulted in the death and injury of civilians”.
Armenia confirmed its first coronavirus case on March 1. On March 16, the government declared a state of emergency and extended it five times, only canceling it on September 11.
The following example is given as a violation of human rights:
“In March, parliament passed amendments requiring telecommunications companies to provide the authorities with telephone records of all their subscribers to make it easier to track down people who might have been infected.”
The report said the authorities stopped tracking their data only after the state of emergency was lifted.
During the same period, about 4,000 children were affected by the closure of schools. Research conducted by World Vision Armenia on 3,000 families showed that almost 14 percent of school-age children did not attend online classes. Nearly 80 percent did not have the right equipment or internet connection.
According to the data of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia, which tracked about 30 protests and rallies during the state of emergency, the police response was selective.
The report states that in some cases the police did not intervene, and in others, they stopped gatherings with less than five participants and even single-person protests, “even when the protesters wore masks and observed social distance”.
In April, the government approved a strategy and action plan for police reform of 2020-2022. The plan includes rebuilding the Ministry of the Interior and strengthening parliamentary oversight of the police:
“The reforms also include the creation of a new patrol police and the enhancement of police investigative powers”.
That being said, the report states that investigations into past abuse of authority conducted by law enforcement agencies remain pending:
“Investigations into cases of police violence during the 2016 protests were reopened in 2019, but no charges were filed. In January, authorities indicted a police officer involved in the violent crackdown on protests in 2015 and suspended investigations into further incidents related to the same protests. In July, authorities also suspended police investigations of the summer 2018 protests”.
In all cases, the authorities stated that they were unable to identify the alleged perpetrators.