July 23, 2015

Armenia’s stance towards recommendations of Universal Periodic Review

During the 29th Regular Session of Human Rights Council, June 25, the state of Armenia presented its official stance towards the recommendations made during the review of the human rights record of Armenia earlier this year.

Large number of recommendations included, among others, adopting and effectively implementing legislation to ensure prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, combating hate propaganda and ensuring that appropriate training is provided to officials, and that law enforcement authorities carry out thorough and prompt investigations regarding attacks on LGBTI persons.

Gladly, most of these recommendations have been supported by the Republic of Armenia, including those related to prohibition of discrimination and discriminatory based activities against LGBT people which were carefully formulated. However, the Republic of Armenia noted one recommendation in which juridical adjustments were requested.

Even so, this small achievement is very important to our work, as it means the acknowledgement by the state of existence of various human rights issues of LGBT people that need to be addressed. The results of this report should be a starting point by the state to undertake necessary measures to improve the lives of LGBT people in Armenia.

To remind, that PINK Armenia, together with partner organizations, had submitted an alternative report for the 21st session of the Universal Periodic Review, where recommendations on prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity had been highly emphasized.

July 22, 2015

Armenia to have a Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage

On July 15, a state commission formed by President Serzh Sargsyan on publicized its draft constitutional amendments envisaging Armenia’s transformation into a parliamentary republic with a largely ceremonial head of state not elected by popular vote.

Under the new Constitution, the president of the republic will be elected by an electoral college consisting of National Assembly members and representatives of local government bodies. It is widely believed that President Sargsyan has initiated the reform to be able to stay in power in some other capacity after completing his second and final presidential term in 2018.

 Lawmakers discussing plans to amend Armenia's constitution back in 2005 expressed broad support for a ban on same-sex marriages. 10 years later we still witness the same intention. The Constitutional amendments refer to changes for the freedom of marriage. Article 35 of the (current) Constitution of The Republic of Armenia states: Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and found a family according to their free will. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and divorce. Article 34, in contrast, according to the amendments, states: Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry with each other and found a family according to their free will. Thus, the new Constitution is limiting the freedom of marriage to opposite sex, Armenia is to join the countries who have a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

The draft Constitution is expected to be completed by early August. Subsequently, the draft shall be submitted to the President. If approved, it will be introduced to the National Assembly, and then a Referendum Day will be set.

May 25, 2015

IDAHOT in Armenia

Several advocacy and public events took place in Yerevan on the occasion of International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. The awareness about the Day has been successfully increased covering different layers of the society.

On the eve of IDAHOT, activists made the uncompromising statement of Stonewall “Some people are gay, get over it” available on the streets of Yerevan for passers-by.

PINK Armenia initiated personal letters to all of the MPs, some of the relevant ministries, prime minister of the country and the president Serzh Sargsyan. PINK called upon the state officials to monitor direct and indirect cases of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, to ensure the legislative amendments to combat discrimination based on SOGI, thus ensuring equal rights and respect towards LGBT people. The letter addressed to the president urged him not to reward persons and organizations openly demonstrating hate calls with national awards. The letter addressed to the MPs pointed out not to use the chair of the National Assembly as a platform for hate speech. The letters stated that the Government is also expected to adopt and implement the recommendations of UPR on regards to prohibiting and preventing discrimination based on SOGI.

PINK also gifted state officials informational booklets about homophobia and postcards with personal stories of LGBT persons who were subjected to violence and discrimination.

On May 17 PINK activists raised the LGBT flag in the very heart of Yerevan, which caused hysteria among the homophobic society and hate calls and threats towards the activists.

To conclude the day, IDAHOT was celebrated in a closed venue attended by more than 120 LGBT people and allies. Rarely in Armenia does the LGBT community have a safe and secure platform to express themselves openly, yet IDAHOT was celebrated in an easy and free environment.

April 22, 2015

Armenian PACE delegate against LGBT rights

As LGBTnews.am (link in Armenian) reports, Prosperous Armenia MP Naira Zohrabyan, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe delegation representative from Armenia, has a negative attitude towards LGBT people and tries to stay away from their issues. Zohrabyan recognizes that we shall avoid such depravity to preserve our nation’s moral and ethnic description. MP noted that in Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly she had constantly voted against all the initiatives aimed at the protection of LGBT people.
“…[M]y attitude towards them is negative and it cannot be changed, because I know there is a law of nature, a law of God, commandments, and the class that will go against the commandments of God, will be awarded the punishment of God. Yes, there probably is a class among them that is sick by genetics, another class that has mental disorders, but we shall not pay tribute… I’ll do my best to ensure they fail spreading their metastasis, I say it openly and publicly”, she said.
PACE delegation substitute from Armenia, "Armenian Revolutionary Federation" faction MP Armen Rustamyan finds that LGBT rights are more than protected in Armenia. He also finds that there’s a huge difference between “vulnerable groups” and LGBT people. “Homosexual marriages do not fit into Armenian mentality … and if the family does not reproduce, then it is not a family”, he concluded.

April 21, 2015

The ombudsman's annual report also refers to LGBT issues

Ombudsman’s Annual Report of 2014 on the human rights protection in Armenia has recently been released. The annual report also refers to LGBT rights violations of 2014, submitted by PINK Armenia. Although the submitted information has not been thoroughly included and presented in the annual report, it includes some of the main issues LGBT people face. The report states that the index of society’s intolerance towards LGBT people remains high. The survey on constitutional reform of 2014 showed that 88% of respondents believe that the rights of sexual minority must be limited. Meanwhile, the 2015 UN Universal Periodic Review working group instructed Armenia to take effective legislative and practical measures to ensure the protection of sexual minorities from discrimination. Human rights defenders recorded 1233 cases of discrimination, physical violence, and inadequate response to LGBT people complaints from the side of law enforcement bodies. Acts of discrimination against LGBT people is often expressed in media, spheres of healthcare, education, labor.
“Gay people are in a more vulnerable situation in penitentiary institutions, where they often perform the most humiliating jobs (eg, sewage cleaning), live isolated from other prisoners, no one communicates with them, their utensils and belongings are separated” is said in the Ombudsman's annual report.

March 24, 2015

Follow up of PACE announcement: Authorization of State-sponsored homophobia

Petra DeSutter, Belgian delegate at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has initiated an announcement, which has been signed by 22 delegates regarding the case of 16 citizens against Iravunk newspaper. Hayk Babukhanyan, the president of the editorial board of Iravunk, member of Armenia's Republican Party Faction of the National Assembly, in his turn, stated that he expects PACE delegates to apologize and leave Iravunk newspaper alone.

On this occasion PINK Armenia has sent letters to various commissions of National Assembly, as well as to the MPs of the Republican Party to find the steps for the follow up of PACE recommendations.

Serzh Sargsyan awarded the
leader of homophobic newspaper
On March 2 we received responses from The Republican Party Faction (secretary) and Standing Committee on Protection of Human Rights and Public Affairs. The letter of Standing Committee on Protection of Human Rights and Public Affairs stated that the matter raised by PINK Armenia was not subjected to discussion.

The response from The Republican Faction said that Hermine Naghdalyan (the head of the Armenian delegation to the PACE, Republican Party) had made a statement on regards to the article by Iravunk, and regarding the announcement made by 22 PACE delegates – MP Hayk Babukhanyan issued an open letter where he explained the situation and demanded an apology from 22 delegates. Together with the letter, the open letter of Babukhanyan and 2 editions of Iravunk newspaper were attached. As a further matter, some articles regarding the case were highlighted, entitled “Naghdalyan left homosexual lobbyists empty-handed”, “Coordinated attack from Strasburg [to Berdzor]”, etc. Is it needless to mention “Iravunk” is published under the state support?

March 20, 2015

The Court of Appeal decision on the case against “Iravunk”

Photo by LGBTnews.am
On February 20, the Civil Court of Appeal reviewed the claim of 16 citizens’ case against “Iravunk” newspaper. The judge ignored the motion to present additional facts to the case (Information Disputes Council found that the expressions and calls for action voiced in the article were displays of extremism and hate speech and written declaration of PACE delegate Petra DeSutter signed by 22 delegates) and on March 5 it rejected 16 citizen`s claim against “Iravunk”, according to which the editor of “Iravunk” newspaper Hovhannes Galajyan’s article titled “They serve the interests of international homosexual lobbying: the blacklist of country’s and nation’s enemies” offended the honor and dignity of the plaintiffs.

According to the Court Decision no offensive remarks were used in the article and it corresponds to the principles of freedom of speech. The verdict obliged the plaintiffs to compensate 50,000 AMD in favor of each respondent party: “Iravunk Media” LTD and Hovhannes Galajyan.

It should be recalled that Judge Nakhshun Tavaratsyan basically revealed in one question that the court has already decided the verdict of the Iravunk case during the trial;
“Does Conchita [Wurst] know that you are defending her this much?”

February 25, 2015

Armenian MPs interviewed on LGBT rights

Republican MP Karine Achemyan is NOT aware that several PACE MPs have issued a statement on the situation of LGBT rights in Armenia even though she followed PACE sessions, and claimed that delegates did not informed them about anything. To the question of LGBTnews.am in an interview whether she, as an MP, is interested in LGBT rights protection and what are the steps she has been taking so far, said Achemyan “I am not planning to do anything because I have not heard and I have no example that any right of Armenian citizen has been violated. This is the first time I hear from you. Please do not concentrate on this issue that much, as I think, I repeat, I don’t think anyone’s right are violated in this country. To the comment that there are many violations of LGBT rights in Armenia, Mrs. Achemyan commented that she was not sent to Parliament to protect the rights of LGBT people.

MP from Heritage faction Tevan Poghosyan was interviewed by LGBTnews.am to find out whether the MP is planning to take the LGBT issues to the Parliament to discuss the protection of their rights by the Parliament. However, the MP wondered how the LGBT issues mattered to him. Cited: “They have people who protect their rights, who support them, you can contact them and they will reply your questions. You mean they are under pressure? I don’t now see it as an issue, you even have a web site, while in many other countries you would all have been burnt or killed while you exist in Armenia, but that does not interest me. Armenia is fulfilling its international commitments”.

In addition, Tevan Poghosyan is the president of the International Center for Human Development (ICHD) since 1999, and ICHD has received grants for implementation of its projects from various institutions, including OSI, Budapest and European Union. It is said that equality and non-discrimination are among ICHD’s core values.

Another MP, Sukias Avetisyan from the leading Republic party noted in an interview that he doesn’t have to see a homosexual person beside him, that he does not accept them, and it is his right to do so. To the question whether he is not concerned to lose voters (LGBT people and/or the ones engaged in the rights protection of LGBT people) for having such a stand, MP replied that he doesn’t want LGBT people and their supporters to help his party.

In contrast to the aforementioned opinions, MP Khachatur Kokobelyan, the leader of “Free Democrats” party finds that there should be an atmosphere of tolerance towards homosexual people, and that there is no need to interfere in anyone’s personal life. However, Kokobelyan also said that we should not talk about the rights of LBGT persons and separate them, since not only their rights that are being violated.

February 24, 2015

PACE: Armenian authorities fail to condemn incitement to hatred against LGBT people

Petra DeSutter, Belgian delegate at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has initiated an announcement, which has been signed by 22 delegates regarding the case of 16 citizens against Iravunk newspaper. The authorities have failed to condemn this incitement to hatred and discrimination. On the contrary, on 25 October Mr. Babukhanyan was awarded a medal of honor by the President of Armenia. A law suit against “Iravunk” for defamation was dismissed six days later.

They called upon:
  • Armenia’s delegates to this Assembly, particularly those from the Republican Party, to impress upon colleagues the need to refrain from incitement to hatred and discrimination; 
  • The Armenian authorities to condemn such incitement unreservedly and to put in place measures to implement the Committee of Ministers Recommendation on combating discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. 
On February 4, Hayk Babukhanyan made a statement on PACE resolution urging the Armenian authorities to put pressure on free press and a politician, that PACE’s call jeopardizes the key democracy principles, the freedom of speech and press, and added he expects them to apologize and leave Iravunk newspaper alone.

PINK Armenia has sent letters to various commissions of National Assembly, as well as to the MPs of the Republican Party to find the steps for the follow up of PACE recommendations, but so far no response has been received.

February 10, 2015

Research: The impact of LGBT emigration on economic indicators of Armenia

The impact of LGBT emigration on economic indicators of Armenia
“Public information and Need of Knowledge” and “Socioscope” Societal Research and Consultancy Center NGOs prepared a report about the LGBT emigration impact on economic indicators of Armenia. The purpose of the project was to study the impact of LGBT emigration on economic indicators of Armenia during 2011-2013 as a result of discrimination against the LGBT community and to reflect those changes in a long-term perspective.

The calculations made by this study demonstrate that, for a citizen of Armenia of average demographics who emigrated during the years 2011-2013, a minimum of the equivalent of $3,545 was spent on education. According to approximate estimates, 5,891 citizens of Armenia emigrated due to discrimination during the years 2011-2013, which implies that society has lost around $21 million in one go only in terms of educational investment toward LGBT emigrants.As for income not received, the calculations reveal that, in the year following emigration during 2011-2013, Armenia did not receive $88,365,000 across three years and for all LGBT emigrants. This is the loss following only one year after emigration, but that loss is prevalent in reality in all the years until the emigrant reaches retirement age.

Budget revenues for all three years taken together – 2011-2013 – could have been more by $20 million had the LGBT individuals who left due to discrimination remained. As a result of the emigration of 5,891 LGBT individuals, the state budget will lose around $2 billion in revenue, at purchasing power as of January 1, 2014, over the course of more than the following 36 years (until retirement).And as a result of LGBT emigration in the following twelve years, from 2014 to 2025, Gross domestic product (GDP) will have a loss of $3 billion at purchasing power as of January 1, 2014, adjusted for Purchasing power parity (PPP), while the budget will lose $370 million at purchasing power as of January 1, 2014.

The full report consists of sociological study and economic assessment. Read the full report with all its findings here.

January 27, 2015

The new draft law on NGOs has caused public sector concerns

According to the new draft law on NGOs submitted by the government, there will be a requirement on financial reports of the non-governmental organizations, and sanctions will be used in case NGOs do not provide the government with the requested reports.

This draft is still in the stage of discussions, but many human rights activists are concerned that this amendment will be put at risk the independence of NGOs.

While the Ministry of Justice argues that instead of trying to control, the law will make the work of the organizations more transparent, David Amiryan, Deputy Director for Programs of the Open Society Foundations - Armenia,commented that failing to report in details on the fundings and purposes can cause the executive to claim the NGOs to stop the activities in Court. This may become a powerful tool in the hands of government to control and threaten the activities of NGOs.

The draft law also require the NGOs to submit an audit report if their annual financial turnover exceeds 10 million. However, the positive sides of the bill include the investment of the volunteering institution, the right of the NGOs to appeal to court itself.

* Note: A few month ago the Ambassador of Russia announced that it would be good for Armenia to have a piece of legislation to control non-governmental organizations as there is one in Russia.

January 20, 2015

Criminals are more welcomed to Armenia than LGBT people

The head of the Police's Public Relations and Information Department Ashot Aharonyan addressed the information spread in Armenia media, that a huge number of criminals are coming to Armenia these days as thieves in law (criminals who are respected, have authority and a high ranking status within the criminal underworld in the old Soviet Union, Russia and the republics that formed the former Soviet Union) meeting is to take place. Aharonyan noted that thousands of people are visiting Armenia for Christmas and New Year holidays, where a person’s right to freedom of movement is protected by law.

Police have announced that the rumors are not true, and that the representatives of the criminal world are constantly in sight of the police, and that each of their move is monitored by law enforcement bodies. 2 weeks later the website Rosbalt.ru reported that the biggest meeting of “thieves in law” took place in Armenia.

Arsen Babayan, the head of Public Relations and Media Department of National Assembly, most likely by trying to support the statements given by the police, explained: “According to the same principle, among the visitors to Armenia these days there will probably be a lot of 'homo-addicts' as well. So what shall we do, shall we blame the Ministry of Health? It is better for the 'thieves in law' to come rather than 'homo-addicts', to whom, unfortunately, media seems to treat naturally".

* Note: homo-addiction is an offensive term to be used in Armenia referring to homosexuality.