BACK IN THE USSR
is where we risk to be taken by the recent campaign of the government structures and some mto portray positive picture of human rights in Armenia versus the criticism of some international organizations. Herein, all the arsenal of Soviet-period political demagogy is enabled: from primitive techniques of promotion and propaganda to speculations on the instincts of xenophobia, induced by forced isolation, and conspiracy theories
THE STUNNING “success” of the referendum on the amendments to RA Constitution, having marked unprecedented “breakthrough” towards democracy and law in the country, apparently encouraged our authorities to teach others. In February, an article criticizing the World Report of Human Rights Watch was posted on the official website of the RA Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the meantime, Armenian Panorama.am information portal placed even more disparaging commentary to the US Department of State report on human rights in Armenia in 2005.
YEREVAN Press Club repeatedly stressed certain negligence and superficiality in developing such reports, particularly those referring to the countries on the periphery of international community attention. However, we should admit that the inaccuracy of the stated facts and figures is to a certain extent compensated by the impartiality of the basic evaluations given in these documents. They can be compared to a look through a telescope from the Moon to the Earth (or vice versa): the details are not very clear but the general view shows the reality. To get acquainted with the object (in this case the level of Armenian democracy and our human rights situation) overall and at a distance, for example from New Zealand or Ecuador, it is quite sufficient. However, those observing at a close distance will trace both the inaccuracies and outdated information, as well as not very adequate assessments of specific events in the reports.
In other words, the mentioned documents reflect general tendencies and help comparing the situations in various countries and regions. However, as a rule they should not be viewed as a detailed monitoring of specific processes in a concrete country or as scrupulous recommendations on what should be done for overcoming the problems. In their current form, they even have certain advantage to a thorough analysis of the situation on the spot, which often appears to be overloaded by individual experiences, interests and perceptions.
NEVERTHELESS, the Armenian authorities, based on the materials mentioned above, have low interest in the issue of reliability and advantage offered by the reports of HRW and the Department of State. There is another objective – to maximally discredit and suffocate all the sources of criticism and alternative viewpoints on the “triumph” of democracy in the country. In recent years, this policy brought certain results. First, it was television that fell under total control of the authorities. In the process of renewal of the Constitution, the political opposition (which itself had a hand at it) was almost fully marginalized.
The next target was non-governmental organizations. Some of them were allured by financial baits (to this effect not only local means were successfully used but also the grants of foreign donors, allured by the friendly regime of the Armenian authorities in exchange for support of pro-government NGOs). Others were intimidated by both direct pressure and speculations on the issues of corruption within NGO sector and their alleged serving the interests of other states (see “Statement…“ in YPC Weekly Newsletter, February 3-9, 2006). Those loyal to their own principles, risk ending up in absolute minority.
Now the time has come for the international organizations to be dealt with. It should be stated that in this sphere as well, the representatives of Armenian authorities already had a certain “positive” experience. They managed to largely exempt themselves from the criticism of the Council of Europe. The methods selected for this purpose were simple but unfailing: stormy reaction to each undesirable statement of the officials and experts of CoE; consistent discrediting of the internal opponents of the country’s authorities before Strasbourg; long discussions with the external opponents on each alternative legal provision or a traced negative fact until the latter get exhausted and concede; constant references to much worse state of affairs in other former Soviet republics; imposing of falsified information; manipulating with pseudo-legal categories and other measures of personal influence. To a certain extent, such “explanatory” work with the Europeans “unprepared” for “proper evaluation of the achievements of Armenian democracy” yielded its results also during the contacts of our authorities with the representatives of the OSCE, European Commission…
Some overseas structures have become new objects to be instructed. The feedback on the 2005 US Department of State report on human rights in Armenia, that has been posted on Panorama.am, deserves to be cited here in detail: “The report (…) has been considered as unsatisfactory by the local experts (…); the report, published on March 8, has been graded level “3” at a five point scale, or rather at level “2” (…). National specialists assessed the above-mentioned report as a “groundless in many cases”, and also as an “extremely politicized and theoretical". According to our experts, the basis of the document is not research but far-fetched and also outdated information obtained from open sources. "It would be better if the report was based on facts and not descriptions of some phenomena, which could have taken place theoretically", commented an Armenian governmental high-ranking official. “It is a pity that US taxpayers have to pay for “recycling” of the thoughts from the reports of several NGOs, partially from those of HRW and a group of public observers and others", the source stated.”
This small article raises quite a lot of questions. Why is it that the US State Department’s report cannot rely on the information of leading human rights NGOs? Aren’t the anonymous “national experts”, preoccupied with rating of the report of “five point scale”, offered as alternative “encyclopedia” of human rights? In general, who are these “experts”, do they have their personal, “grounded, non-politicized and not exclusively theory-based” report on human rights in Armenia, which would contain “fresh” information from “closed” sources and which could be compared to that of the Department of State? Are the mentioned “experts” and “the high-ranking source in Armenian government”, concerned with the “money of American taxpayers”, the same person or they simply have the same vocabulary? Finally, how does this same “source” assess spending the money of Armenian taxpayers, for instance, to draft the report of the first Human Rights Defender of Armenia for 2005, given the fact that the official distribution of this document was blocked by the authorities (apparently again for its “ungrounded and politicized” nature)? Who but the ombudsman is entitled to evaluating the human rights situation in the country for the period of being in office?
HOWEVER, it turns out that the ombudsman is not the only fish in the sea. There are much more competent people in the country! Probably, these are the “local experts” alongside the “high-ranking source in the government”, brought by Panorama.am. On the RA MFA website, as mentioned above, a commentary was placed on the report of Human Rights Watch for Armenia. Moreover, the commentary exceeds the report itself in volume, and appears to serve as an example to the international organizations for evaluating human rights in Armenia. To make it vivid, we will compare the essence of the texts by HRW and its local opponents.
HRW writes, “the government has made little progress on measures against corruption” and there was forced acquisition of urban land by “government-backed developers”. Further on, “on repeated occasions in 2005, nongovernmental organizations and political parties attempted to hold public gatherings at which police or unidentified people interfered”. The report also enumerates problems with enforcement of the Law “On Alternative Service”, describes the incident at the office of the Human Rights Defender, when the law-and-order bodies, without a proper warrant, confiscated a computer with confidential information about the people’s complaints. It also mentions the torture and ill treatment in police custody, which are “still widespread”, the abuse and mistreatment in the army “with dozens of suspicious deaths occurring every year”.
To trust the reference accusing HRW for “distorted and unreliable facts”, the Armenian authorities and law-and-order bodies never impeded assemblies and rallies. In 2004-2005, there were no cases of beating or violence against the detainees by the representatives of the law-and-order bodies. The document gives a detailed account of a number of anti-corruption measures taken, the bodies established and documents adopted in this sphere (apparently, the efficiency of anti-corruption activity is measured by the funds spent. So when they reach the scale compatible with corruption, the struggle may be viewed as successfully completed). In military sphere, we have obvious progress and achievements with annually reduced cases of violent deaths within the army. According to the authors of the reference, confiscation of the computer from the Human Rights Defender’s office, without the latter’s notice, is quite normal. The investigating bodies used only the information they needed for a concrete criminal case (I wonder what made the authors of the reference so confident? May be the “closed” sources to which human rights organizations and Department of State have no access?).
Despite all the inaccuracies found in the Human Rights Watch report, you still recognize the country you live in, whereas the reference placed on the MFA website presents a country you would like to live in, given all the progress and rule of law. The trouble is that the content of the reference has little relation to current reality. The situation in almost all mentioned fields is subject to polishing, however, we will bring a vivid example from one sphere related to Yerevan Press Club activity.
Trying to prove the weakness of HRW assessments on the problems of media freedom, particularly the “A1+” issue, the authors of the reference note that in 2002 the license of this TV company expired, and the company did not win. Further on, the critics of HRW complain that in 2005 “A1+”, as well as “Noyan Tapan” did not use the two competitions on the licensing of the TV programs, thus missing the opportunity to get back on air. At the same time, the reference, first, does not mention that from 2002 to 2005 “A1+” participated in 10 competitions without any success, and “Noyan Tapan”- in 5. Second, an important detail is missed: the Yerevan competitions, announced in 2005, offered licenses for exclusively rebroadcasting of already existing channels and not an access to the audience with their own programs. Consequently, speaking about the lost opportunities of the two TV companies for returning on air means either revealing one’s absolute incompetence or deliberately misleading the public.
It should be admitted that Human Rights Watch also made a mistake in the section on media, having placed non-resumption of air of “A1+”, “Noyan Tapan” and Russian NTV in one category. No matter how obvious might be the political implication for the absence of these TV channels on Armenia air, de jure there is no correct evidence of this. So the situations for each of them going off the air are absolutely different in legal terms. Such inaccuracies certainly weaken the significance of the report and allow the anonymous “local experts” to manipulate with the facts and to rush into counterattack. If the foreign colleagues, specializing in human rights, set the goal of not simply describing the general situation but also influencing the state of affairs in each concrete country, they need to think over maximum reliability, accuracy and closer cooperation with the trustworthy independent and competent local organizations.
IN CASE of Armenia, the issue of reliability and consistency of external evaluations acquires special significance. The country’s authorities attach large importance to the programmes under American “Millennium Challenge Account” and European Neighborhood Policy. On the one hand, this interest, combined with the necessity of meeting definite criteria, may serve as a stimulus for promoting democratic reforms. On the other hand, it temps the authorities to present imitation of democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights as real reforms both to keep the aid and to continue abuse in the country, ignoring civilized norms (see “Promoting Democracy from Abroad?” article in YPC Weekly Newsletter, November 18-24, 2005). While, to this effect it is especially important to trim the image of the country created by such organizations as Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Transparency International, the reports of the US Department of State and monitoring groups of the Council of Europe, PACE resolutions, etc. Some of them have already experienced the energetic (and not inefficient, as mentioned above) pressure from Yerevan. Others still have it ahead of them. Some yielded to the pressure, as for the others, the time will show.
The protest voice of one country might fail to have a serious impact on international organizations, but it is all the Commonwealth of Independent States, headed by Russia, that is attacking. The governments of post-Soviet countries are not very good at democracy, however they fully got rid of the “inferiority complex” and piety towards Western promoters of reforms and human rights activists. The first experience of joint resistance to them was a critical statement against OSCE, signed by the nine Presidents in 2004 (see the assessment of “Partnership for Open Society” initiative on http://www.partnership.am/docs.php?Lang=E&ID=13). It was followed by new addresses to the West and international structures, the essence of which is reduced to an awkward advice, “Do not teach us to live, better help us financially!” This rank is joined by both the article in Panorama.am and the reference on the MFA website. Little doubt is raised by the fact that they have common authorship, despite their full anonymity. It is not occasional that both materials (though with no reference to them) served as a basis for anti-Department-of-State article in “Hayots Ashkhar” daily (“The Report Outdated and Inaccurate” of March 10, 2006), which is known for its anti-Western orientation.
THE ABOVEMENTIONED clearly points to a planned campaign on discrediting all the institutions – local and foreign, that stand for democratic principles, human rights, and criticize the Armenian authorities in this respect. For the time being, it is of adjusting, training nature. The authors are anonymous; English versions of the articles have not been posted in the respective online resources. However, what the outcome of good adjusting can be is clearly demonstrated by the examples of several post-Soviet countries, having outrun Armenia in “self-treatment” from “democratic illusions”. What a similarity to our recent past!
It was hardly expected by any of the serious experts on social processes that such a grand phenomenon as USSR might have passed into oblivion in just a dozen and a half years. However, are there any prescriptions against neo-Soviet manipulative technologies applied for the prevention of democracy and progress?
President of Yerevan Press Club