Monday, 25 June 2007

UNHCR Review of Gay Rights in Armenia (2003-2005)

Armenia: The situation of homosexuals and lesbians; public perception of gays and lesbians; availability of state protection and whether there exist state programs to promote the respect of their human rights (January 2003 - December 2005)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officially published in its website the above review. It was originally conducted by Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada as ‘Responses to Information Requests’ (RIRs) and published in Ottawa on 19 January 2006.

Background info from Agency’s website:
RIRs respond to focused queries or Requests for Information that are submitted to the Research Directorate in the course of the refugee protection determination process.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Personal Notes:
It should be noted that this review reflects 2003-2005 years. Since then, some positive changes occurred in Armenia. Particularly, gay or gay-friendly venues emerged in Armenian capital, Yerevan, which was unthinkable just a year or two ago. Also, the first LGBT NGO called Menk (“We For Civil Equality”) was founded and registered by Ministry of Justice in July 2006. It was referred in this review as not yet established “Self-Help Group”.

However, main issues raised in this review still exist and need urgent attention. There is still widespread homophobia in Armenian society and lack of legal protection of LGBT people whose human rights are violated. Gay men and lesbians are subjected to both verbal and physical homophobic abuse in everyday life and are ill-treated by law-enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, due to known reasons, these facts generally remain unreported and mainly based on anecdotal evidence. Moreover, as stated in this review, till now “Armenia[n] legislation does not contain a single provision on discrimination based on or due to sexual orientation”.

Today, speaking to RFE/RL (Radio Liberty), Avet Adonts, chairman of parliamentary committee to promote Armenia’s integration into European structures, stressed his group’s intention to “harmonize Armenia’s laws with those adopted by EU countries”. He rightly pointed out that “laws alone will not bring Armenia closer to Europe. “Public opinion in Armenia is not quite prepared for European integration,” he said. “Many think that it is being imposed on us. We have to explain, we have to work actively with non-governmental organizations.”

I hope Adonts, a career diplomat, understands that EU-like laws mean also equality and protection of human rights, including specific anti-discrimination laws to protect rights of minority groups, in this case, LGBT people. We’ve yet to hear from Armenian Ombudsman if/how he intends to incorporate gay rights into the agenda of Human Rights Defender of Republic of Armenia. European institutions, international bodies and local organisations, along with representatives of gay community, should keep these issues high in their agenda while dealing with Armenia’s European aspirations, which are my aspirations too.

Below is a copy of the UNHCR review (the full list of used or consulted references is available in Agency’s official website):

*Many thanks to M. M. for info about this publication!

Homosexual actions were decriminalized in 2003 when the Criminal Code was amended and the provision on homosexuality was repudiated (UN 2005; COE 12 Jan. 2004, 33; AGLA 1 Dec. 2005; ILGA Europe 20 Oct. 2005; ILGA 17 July 2005; Helsinki Committee of Armenia 2004, 26; Internews n.d.; Sodomy Laws 9 Jan. 2003). This was done once the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe imposed decriminalization of homosexuality as a condition for Armenia to become a member of the Council of Europe (COE 28 June 2000; ILGA Aug. 2000; Sodomy Laws n.d.; Armenian Law Review 26 July 2004; AGLA 3 Oct. 2004). The new Criminal Code was adopted on 18 April 2003 (UN 2005; ILGA n.d.; Internews n.d.) and came into force on 1 August 2003 (ibid.; ILGA n.d.; ibid. 17 July 2005).

However, gays and lesbians still face problems in Armenia (AGLA 22 Apr. 2005; ibid. 3 Oct. 2004; ibid. 5 Oct. 2004; Helsinki Committee of Armenia 2004; UN 2005; Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Secs. 1.c, 5; Armenian Law Review 26 July 2004; COE 12 Jan. 2004; IWPR 21 Apr. 2004; ArmeniaNow 10 Jan. 2003). The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports that "[i]t is noteworthy that public opinions on homosexuality are rather tough: traditional Armenian society rejects displays of non-heterosexual relations" and

... according to data provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (also referred to as 'the Police of the RA'), there were 21 'registered' male homosexuals. It is thus not surprising that information related to MSM [Men who have Sex with Men] is rather limited, reflecting the traditionally negative attitude of society towards homosexuality (2005).

Country Reports 2004 reported that "[h]omosexuals ... also reported that they were singled out for hazing by officers and other conscripts" (28 Feb. 2005, Sec. 1.c) and "[m]ilitary officers targeted homosexuals for hazing. The Helsinki Association reported cases of police harassment of homosexuals through blackmail, extortion, and, on occasion, violence" (Country Reports 2004 28 Feb. 2005, Sec. 5).

According to an article in the Armenian Law Review, "[e]ven though the law on homosexuals has been abolished, homosexuals did not receive the 'legal' recognition by society and the church; they still remain 'criminals' (not by law) or immoral, sick people" (26 July 2004). The Armenian Law Review also indicates that the fact that homosexuality has been decriminalized does not change the public perception nor does it put an end to violation of human rights based on sexual orientation (Armenian Law Review 26 July 2004).

In its annual report on human rights for 2004, the Helsinki Committee of Armenia (HCA) states "[T]he Republic of Armenia legislation does not contain a single provision on discrimination based on or due to sexual orientation. However, society refuses to acknowledge such individuals and exerts social pressure on them" (2004, Para. 25). The HCA also reports "the Criminal Code now contains provisions that aggravate crimes perpetrated on the basis of the victim's sexual orientation. However, police officers continue to persecute homosexuals" (HCA 2004, Para. 25). No information corroborating the HCA's statements could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

According to an article on the Institute for War & Peace Reporting's (IWPR's) Website, members of the homosexual community in Yerevan were trying to establish Armenia's first homosexual support group (21 Apr. 2004). It was to be called the "Self-Help Group"; however, the article stated that it had not been founded as an official organization (IWPR 21 Apr. 2004). No information could be found as to whether such a group currently exists. The source also reported that homosexuals were threatened because of their sexual orientation and that "[f]ew gays ever report offences against them to the police, fearing their families will be notified" (ibid.).

The following information was provided by the president of the Association of Gay and Lesbian Armenians (AGLA) in France (1 Dec. 2005): Even though homosexuality has been decriminalized in Armenia, the situation of gays and lesbians has not improved. Law enforcement agencies continue to extort money and blackmail homosexuals, all of which is known by the authorities. Gays and lesbians do not report any of the problems they face as public perception is negative towards homosexuals. Homophobia and violence are "omnipresent" in the Armenian society.

The Council of Europe (COE) indicates that homosexuals are still subject to blackmail from law enforcement officials to extort money from them, that the public still has a homophobic perception of homosexuals and that "homosexuals are still a long way from being able to organise community activities in freedom" (12 Jan. 2004, Paras. 221 and 222). The COE also reports that some parliamentarians demonstrate homophobic attitudes and would like to reinstate homosexuality as an offence (COE 12 Jan. 2004, Para. 222).

AGLA stated that there is no state protection for homosexuals whose human rights are violated and, according to their contacts in Armenia, homosexuals who are victims of criminal acts often face inactivity on the part of law enforcement and authorities. Homosexuals fear violence and homophobia in their workplace or by their family, and therefore, do not file complaints of human rights violations or of criminal offences. When asked whether any state program exists to promote respect of homosexuals' human rights, AGLA responded in the negative. AGLA indicated that they wrote two letters to the Armenian authorities in October 2004, following an incident of homophobia that occurred in parliament, to request that measures be taken to prevent homophobia and to condemn homophobic remarks made by politicians and by the media. AGLA accused the Armenian authorities of promoting homophobia instead of trying to eliminate it (AGLA 1 Dec. 2005).

The aforementioned incident occurred in September 2004, when the leader of the Armenian Aryan Order, Armen Avetisyan, accused parliamentarians and top officials of being homosexuals (AGLA 22 Apr. 2005; ibid. 3 Oct. 2004; ibid. 5 Oct. 2004; ibid. 3 Nov. 2004; ArmeniaNow 8 Oct. 2004; HCA 2004; ARKA News 19 Jan. 2005). Armen Avetisyan subsequently announced that he had proof and would publish a list of senior officials who were homosexuals with the intention of forcing their resignation (AGLA 3 Oct. 2004; ArmeniaNow 8 Oct. 2004). Following these threats, according to the Helsinki Committee of Armenia, "the National Assembly held a discussion during which they threatened to dismiss the officials who would be proven to be homosexual. To justify their statements, the parliamentarians claimed that it was a threat to national security and that homosexual officials who could be blackmailed by people threatening to publicize their sexual orientation were prone to various deals and compromise" (2004). AGLA corroborated this information by indicating that "the government and opposition leaders, [parliamentary] deputies along with media outlets have organised an ugly campaign of 'witch-hunting' and incitement of hatred toward gays" (5 Oct. 2004).

1 comment:

artmika said...

A similar report was published in relation to Georgia:

24 November 2004

Georgia: Update to GGA32976.E of 7 October 1999 on the situation of homosexuals

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Ottawa

Although Georgia has decriminalized homosexuality (HRIDC 16 Nov. 2004; Embassy of the United Kingdom 12 Nov. 2004), and on 25 February 2004 newly elected president Mikhail Saakashvili was cited as saying that his government would not permit "any kind of discrimination" against homosexuals (BBC 25 Feb. 2004), homophobic attitudes persist (IHF 5 Nov. 2000; Georgian AIDS [Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome] and Clinical Immunology Research Center 2001; HRIDC 16 Nov. 2004; RFE/RL 29 July 2003). In a 1998 survey of four hundred thirty of Tbilisi residents, eighty-four per cent were negative in their view of homosexuality, fourteen per cent were neutral and two per cent were positive (IHF 5 Nov. 2000). According to a United Nations-funded report by the Georgian AIDS and Clinical Immunology Research Center, negative attitudes are particularly strong in the case of "passive" homosexuals, although homosexuality in general is the subject of a "strict social taboo" (2001). In correspondence dated 16 November 2004, the executive director of the Human Rights Information and Documentation Center (HRIDC), a Tbilisi-based non-governmental organization founded in 1996 whose mandate includes human rights monitoring and fighting against "discrimination and intolerance" (HRIDC n.d.), similarly indicated that social attitudes towards homosexuality are "quite negative," and the "issue itself is not acceptable for the wide range of society, so their problems are mostly hidden." The executive director further stated that, because of this, he has not received any reports of mistreatment (ibid. 16 Nov. 2004). The executive director's statements corroborate assertions made by the director of the Liberty Institute, a non-governmental human rights organization based in Tbilisi, who claimed that

[I]t's absolutely impossible to speak about the rights of homosexuals because it's hidden. It's not reported. Nobody complains about violations, but you can detect this hate on every corner. I think it's hate toward people who are different. When these hate speakers want to stigmatize someone, they are portraying their opponents as homosexual, Armenian, Jehovah's Witnesses, Freemasons (RFE/RL 29 July 2003).

In correspondence to the Research Directorate, a professor of sociology at Tbilisi State University provided the following information concerning the situation of homosexuals:

[H]omosexuals remain one of the most discriminated [against] social groups in Georgia, and homophobic views are more than common amongst practically all segments of the society. Perhaps there has been a very slight shift in attitudes towards homosexuals amongst the privileged stratum, the so-called cultural elite, but this does not change the overall picture. Not a single person in Georgia has dared to publicly come out. Print and broadcast media branches are saturated with homophobic views and negative stereotypes. Homosexuality remains a scandalous issue for the yellow press. And what makes the situation worse is that virtually all powerful organisations that work on the advancement and defence of human rights avoid the gay issue in their rhetoric and campaigns, perhaps due to fear of becoming discredited. However, I am aware that some of these organisations store data on instances of violence against homosexuals (physical, verbal, often displayed by the police in recent years), which they do not verbalise in public but [they] still try to discretely assist the victims (20 Nov. 2004).

The professor noted that the state has not taken any measures to promote the human rights of homosexuals, adding that the only non-governmental organization she knows of that "more or less openly touches upon gay rights" is the Women's Initiative Supporting Group (Professor 20 Nov. 2004; ibid. 23 Nov. 2004). While this organization deals principally with women and gender-related issues, it also "provides information on the rights of sexual minorities" (ibid. 20 Nov. 2004).

The professor also indicated that while there is a "large" gay community in Tbilisi,

it is an absolutely underground subculture, very much closed off for outsiders and predominantly comprised of gay men. Lesbian communities are even more invisible. Fortunately, we have not seen [the] emergence of organised groups specifically practicing gay-bashing; however, virtually any public display of homosexuality risks outbursts of verbal and physical violence (ibid. 23 Nov. 2004).

A number of reports published between 2002 and 2004 refer to incidents in which individuals were publicly labelled "homosexual" (Internews Georgia 20 Oct. 2003; ibid. 27 July 2004; Human Rights in Georgia Mar. 2002), including a case in February 2002 in which Nugzar Sajaia, head of the Security Council of Georgia, reportedly committed suicide after the minister of defence, in an interview with a Tbilisi newspaper, accused him of being homosexual (ibid.).

Information on resources and services available to homosexuals was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. The executive director of the HRIDC stated that there are no organizations in Georgia dealing specifically with homosexuals' human rights (16 Nov. 2004). According to Rachel Peterson, an expatriate affiliated with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), who has lived in Tbilisi for one year, the capital has a "small but flourishing gay community" (Real Post Reports June 2004). Postings on the Internet-based Gay Tbilisi Forum refer to a number of clubs catering to homosexuals, including Bunker Bar (12 Nov. 2004) and Success Bar (Gay Tbilisi Forum 18 Apr. 2004).