In the context of its programme for legal cooperation in Armenia1, the FIDH organised, in close collaboration with its member organisation, the Avangard Centre for Humanitarian Research, a training seminar on the use of the international mechanisms for the protection of Human Rights, from 1st to 6th December, 1998 at Yerevan2. This programme aims to contribute to the reinforcement of civil society and the organisations for the defence of Human Rights in Armenia. The basis of the project is the creation of four operational bureaux providing legal and judicial help for the victims of Human Rights violations in Armenia. These have been established in four regions - including the three principal cities (Yerevan, Gumri,
Vanador) and have been active since September 1998.
The training seminar in Yerevan took place in two parts: the first, open to the public, tackled a variety of themes dealing with how a State functions under the rule of law; the last two days were reserved for activists because they were wholly devoted to the functioning and activities of organisations set up for the defence of Human Rights.
The debate benefited from an important contribution from the scientific community and led to concrete common action. Individuals from civil society, invited by Avangard, made contributions on subjects as diverse as the current reform of the judicial system, respect for economic and social rights, or the freedom of the press. Their talks and contributions to the debates, and also, for some, their assiduous presence, are without doubt one of the positive results of the seminar.
The scientific community, in addition to well known moral authorities, who contributed mainly in the field of economic and social rights, made a major contribution to understanding the current problems and the concrete legal challenges which Armenia must answer.
They committed themselves to providing technical assistance to Avangard in the preparation of syntheses or reports which will shortly be presented to the Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights or the Committee on the Rights of the Child of the United Nations, which have both placed Armenia on their respective agendas for 1999.
The activists felt this commitment to be an encouraging act of solidarity and a sign of hope for their undertaking.
There was another positive result from the seminar: the discreet scepticism of the participants gave way to a considered understanding of the issues they face and the means to deal with them. The seminar was particularly interactive, and the questions asked by the participants in the meeting showed that there was a definite discrepancy between the methods and remedies described and the concerns and realities on the ground. The contributions from the experts caused reactions of surprise, notably when the definitions of the concepts of freedom and dealing with prohibitions were broached: the Soviet regime had tended to define what was allowed and not what was forbidden.
In illustrating the recourse to international instruments and tribunals (UN) through real case studies, constantly emphasising the mission of an NGO in civil and political society, and in broaching taboo subjects, such as the widespread system of corruption, the workshop generated increasing interest. Sceptical attitudes disappeared little by little, and the young activists assessed the direction of their activity, its context, and the means and tools at their disposal.
For Further information
The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations considered the report presented by the Armenian government, from 2nd to 4th November 1998. In its final conclusions, the Committee expressed various concerns about in particular, freedom of movement, detention conditions, the independence of the law and discrimination against women. These conclusions may be found on the UN internet site: http://www.un.org
A true spirit of activism was perceptible at the end of the seminar and group solidarity was engendered - two exceptional results in a society prey to an extremely hard economic and social crisis where the fight for survival is very individualist.
Other encouraging signs deserve to be noted: a realisation by the activists that the Human Rights situation in Armenia is not unique, that their fight is not isolated, and that while the international instruments and remedies are certainly not a panacea to stop violations, they could turn out to be effective weapons for an Armenia worried about its image; the gathering of intellectuals and scientists around Avangard; young lawyers joining the association at the close of the seminar; the preparation of alternative reports for the controlling organs of the UN; and the raising of taboo subjects regarding corruption, etc.
In conclusion, we witnessed the birth of a genuine activist movement for Human Rights. All the ingredients for the development of this movement in the different layers of civil and political society, and its popularisation, seem to be there.
It is more than ever the duty of the FIDH to be there with the Armenian Human Rights defenders to encourage them and accompany them during this new year: at the UN certainly, but also with regard to the public authorities, and notably in connection with the two fundamental themes which are the system of generalised corruption and the impunity of the security forces (army, police).
Chargé de mission