July 4, 2013

Constitution Day: Dignity and Justice for All

Every July 5, the Republic of Armenia observes Constitution Day. This official holiday commemorates the adoption of a new Constitution and a new era in Armenia’s history.Armenia is a beautiful land fraught with historical travesties. Having endured one of the worst genocides in written history and then being occupied by iron Soviet rule with intermittent wars and battles throughout, Armenia was able to finally break free and gain its independence on September 21, 1991.

Like most new nations in the last century, Armenia sought to adopt a Constitution that would allow it to glimpse at its unfortunate history and ensure it did not get repeated again in the future. Armenia’s Supreme Council Constitutional Commission approved a draft Constitution to be voted on in a referendum and on July 5, 1995, the Constitution was approved by the people with 68% voting in favor of it according to official statistics. Years after the birth of an independent Armenia, the country finally had a framework and foundation for democracy, citizenship, and the rule of law.

The Constitution provided for freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of press, and freedom of assembly among other things. It also had a number of shortcomings, such as concentration of power in the presidency and a lack of independence of the judiciary. Calls for political reform as well as Armenia’s international obligations led to the proposal of constitutional amendments. Numerous drafts were submitted and it was the draft written by the coalition of ruling parties, as well as the recommendations of the Venice Commission, that was voted on and passed in another referendum on November 25, 2005.

The amended Constitution was a huge step towards democratic reform. Though far from perfect, the amendments introduced a separation of powers, more independence of the judiciary, and higher regard for human rights and human dignity. It opened up dual citizenship, abolished the death penalty, and gave Yerevan community status-allowing for election rather than appointment of the mayor.

Reflecting on the current state of human rights in Armenia, and especially the treatment of LGBT people, it is important to revisit what the Constitution says about human rights and discrimination.

The first chapter of the Constitution starts by boldly asserting in Article 3 that “the human being, his or her dignity, fundamental rights and freedoms are the highest values. The State shall ensure the protection of fundamental human and citizen’s rights and freedoms, in conformity with the principles and norms of international law. The State shall be bound by fundamental human and citizen’s rights and freedoms as directly applicable law.”

The Constitution then begins to outline these rights in Chapter 2 beginning with Article 14.1 stating that “all human beings shall be equal before the law. Discrimination based on sex, race, skin colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion, ideology, political or other views, membership to a national minority, property status, birth, disability, age, or other personal or social circumstances shall be prohibited.”

Though there is nothing constitutionally that explicitly protects the rights of LGBT people, the spirit of the language on human rights outlined in the Constitution clearly is something that is applicable to all. Additionally, Armenia adopted the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in 2008. Yet discrimination claims currently fall on deaf ears and there remains institutionalized discrimination against the LGBT community, despite the Constitution’s initial language above swearing to uphold fundamental rights “in conformity with the principles and norms of international law.”

Armenia’s history gave birth to the idea of establishing a Constitution that would once and for all to give its people what they havehistorically lacked over the last few hundred years: fundamental inalienable rights. However for several reasons, we are yet to see the effects of this Constitution take hold. Armenia is no different with respect to many lands and peoples across the world in that culture is harder to break than the new rules that govern it. There is also the problem of the authorities having no desire to uphold the Constitution and often acting in opposition to the spirit of it. Thus on Constitution Day, it is important for Armenians to reflect on the meaning of the Constitution and to fight for the rights of all, especially the most vulnerable groups, to finally be realized.

July 2, 2013

Are we on the right side of history?

AGLA NY at Pride March 2013
Photo by Engin Beri
In a landmark ruling for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) rights, the Supreme Court of the United States on Wednesday struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law signed by then President Bill Clinton blocking federal recognition of same-sex marriages. In a separate case, the court ruled that it could not take up a challenge to Proposition 8, the California law that banned same-sex marriage in that state. That decision means that marriage equality will once again be legal in California.

This is a watershed moment in the fight for equality with the Supreme Court delivering justice to millions of Americans and to the thousands of LGBT Armenian-Americans who have been denied their rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Yet it is increasingly clear that we now have two Americas – one where our relationships are recognized and we are protected from discrimination in 13 States and the District of Columbia, and another that has yet to feel the effects of our progress and LGBT people remain second-class citizens, including in the State of Florida.

Sadly, we find many LGBT Armenian-Americans living under this same pretext for far too long – in an America that celebrates and protects who we are as Armenians and the other in our community centers and churches that marginalize and stigmatize LGBT Armenians for whom they love. No one should choose between who they are and whom they love.

I recognize that there are deeply held views on this issue and deeply fierce opposition by the Armenian Church hierarchy. But we cannot pretend to be a nation seeking restorative justice and recognition of our painful history and add the word “but” if we are truly genuine in our collective quest for justice for all.

This is a debate about equal rights under the law. It is about freedom from discrimination and stigmatization the way we were once discriminated and stigmatized as Christians in the Ottoman Empire. It is about the legal protections and responsibilities, and more than 1,100 rights, obligations and benefits afforded by the legal institution of marriage that, prior to the DOMA ruling, were denied to same-sex Armenian American couples. It is also about real people: your sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and neighbors. And finally, it is about witnessing and reflecting the love and commitment between two people.

Given our 1,700 years of Christian heritage, I’d like to sum up the whole law in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” Galatians 5:15.

For if truly we, as the Armenian nation, are on a quest to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice for all, then surely we must stand on the right side of history by resisting all forms of bigotry and dedicating ourselves to the advancement of social justice and human dignity of both the living and the deceased.

And if truly we belong to the body of our Lord Jesus Christ through the One, Holy, Catholic (Universal) and Apostolic Church, then surely we are commanded to love, treat with respect and defend our LGBT Armenian sisters and brothers and any other marginalized groups both in the U.S. and in our beloved Hairenik (fatherland), no matter what your Biblical conviction is on homosexuality. This we know as absolute: Christ’s ministry was inclusive and he said that if we commit hate in our hearts we have committed murder – thus, we should take discrimination, hate-talk and the bullying of any marginalized group very seriously. If our tragic history hasn’t taught us anything, then I do not know what will. To learn more specifics on how the Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Prop 8 might affect you, please visit www.hrc.org/SCOTUS.

Michael Toumayan
source: Florida Armenians

Michael Toumayan is a program assistant at the Human Rights Campaign and an independent political commentator on the Caucasus and Middle East.
A graduate of Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, he holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution and mediation from Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israel. He can be reached at michael.toumayan@hrc.org.

July 1, 2013

A record 10 million people living with HIV now have access to antiretroviral treatment

Press release

Biggest year on year increase as numbers of people accessing antiretroviral therapy increase by 1.6 million from 2011 to 2012

Stop AIDS. Keep the promise
GENEVA, 30 June 2013—A new report from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF shows a huge acceleration in the roll out and uptake of antiretroviral therapy since 2011. A record 9.7 million people living with HIV were accessing treatment in 2012 compared to just over 8.1 million in 2011––an increase of 1.6 million in one year alone.

New guidelines from WHO, issued together with the report, give clear recommendations that people living with HIV should start antiretroviral therapy much earlier, and immediately in some instances. Under this new guidance some 26 million (25.9 million) people will now be eligible for antiretroviral therapy, an additional 9.2 million from the previous 2010 guidance.

“It is our moral and scientific obligation to reach as many people as we can with antiretroviral therapy” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “This is what we will continue to strive for and we believe that we can significantly scale up access to treatment even within the current financial envelope.”

By making strategic efficiencies in HIV programming, UNAIDS estimates that expansion of treatment can be accelerated within the existing resource needs of between US$ 22-24 billion for 2015. “With smart planning, we estimate that cost savings of around 20% could be made by 2015 which, if invested smartly, would allow us to reach yet more people with lifesaving antiretroviral therapy.”

UNAIDS estimates that cost savings could be achieved through three main areas; a reduction in costs of medicines and medical supplies, particularly as volumes increase; simplifying delivery systems; and increasing efficiencies within the overall AIDS response.

Significant successes in reducing costs have been achieved in recent years. For example the price of medicines to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV was reduced from US$ 800 in 2011 to below US$ 100 in 2013. Through a more competitive bidding process, South Africa has reduced the cost of procurement of antiretrovirals to the lowest price anywhere in the world at US$ 127 per person per year for the fixed dose combination recommended in the new guidelines. This has resulted in a 53% reduction in expenditure on antiretroviral treatment for South Africa.

The report also highlights that the United States President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) estimates that by leveraging existing opportunities for cost efficiencies it has more than halved the average cost per person receiving treatment in PEPFAR supported programmes––from more than US$ 1000 per person per year in 2004 to less than US$ 400 per person per year between in 2011.

Additional savings are expected as methods of testing for HIV become simpler and easier to administer (a fingerpick HIV test for example can now give results in 30 minutes). Other efficiencies are being made as more and more HIV services are being integrated into existing structures such as antenatal clinics and TB facilities.

The challenge set by the new guidelines will encourage countries, donors and partners in the AIDS response to strive for even greater results. If the recommendations in the new guidelines are implemented they would avert an estimated 13.5 million deaths and 19 million new HIV infections by 2025.



UNAIDS Geneva | Sophie Barton-Knott | tel. +41 22 791 1697 | bartonknotts@unaids.org

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) leads and inspires the world to achieve its shared vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. UNAIDS unites the efforts of 11 UN organizations—UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNFPA, UNODC, UN Women, ILO, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank—and works closely with global and national partners to maximize results for the AIDS response. Learn more at unaids.org and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter. at unaids.org and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.