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Human Rights Defenders in Armenia are in Need of Protection

On March 11 2019, human rights defender Lara Aharonian reported to the Police of Armenia on attacks, insults and hate speech against her with a claim to investigate and punish those responsible for such attacks.

On March 8, 2019, in the framework of the Civil Society-Parliament cooperation platform for gender equality and equal opportunities on the rights of women from all groups, Lara Aharonian made a speech about the rights of poor women, women with disabilities, single mothers, lesbian, trans and bisexual women, etc, which made her a target for further online attacks and hate speech.

The Human Rights House Yerevan and Coalition to Stop Violence against Women are concerned regarding the case of Lara Aharonian, women rights defender in Armenia and have issued a statement.

“The hostile attitudes backed by discriminatory narratives and hate speech have included threats to kill and rape her and harm her family. It is the latest of a succession of attacks in recent months targeting human rights defenders, especially Mrs. Lara Aharonian, as she is a vocal women’s rights defender in Armenia and is fighting for gender equality and reproductive rights of women.

She has been in the spot of the attacks since 2013 and the attacks against her and her family are currently ongoing.

The state is still failing in its obligation to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders and guarantee proper protection to human rights defenders, as a part of its responsibility to protect and promote human rights as stipulated by numerous international treaties.

The previous experiences of human rights defenders becoming a target for hate speech and reporting it to the Police, and the continuing attacks against those working in the field of human rights in Armenia show the urgency of taking decisive steps to ensure defenders’ safety. Regrettably, none of the hate speech cases reported to the Police by human rights defenders were legally identified as such and nobody took responsibility for spreading hatred, and the inaction by the Police and other responsible state institutions only worsens this climate, because it gives the impression that violence against defenders will be tolerated and go unpunished.

Given this, and in light of the growing number of extremist groups who threaten and try to discredit human rights defenders, we need more protection, legal guarantees, and support from the Armenian Government for our effective functionality. We insist on the following:

·         The Government of Armenia should ensure the effective functioning of the State Police regarding the proper investigation of hate speech, assault and attack cases against human rights defenders.

·         The Government of Armenia should adopt an effective gender-sensitive policy aimed at the protection of human rights defenders with a clear gender perspective.

·         The Government of Armenia should ensure that effective protection of and cooperation with the human rights defenders is a prioritized issue within the framework of the protection of human rights in Armenia.

·         The Government of Armenia should act in the spirit of UN Resolution on Protecting Women Human Rights Defenders, publicly acknowledge the important and legitimate role of women human rights defenders in the promotion and protection of human rights, address structural discrimination and violence faced by women human rights defenders of all ages and groups and take all measures to ensure their protection. In addition, the Government of Armenia should adopt an awareness-raising policy and promote the legitimacy and the work of human rights defenders.

·         The Government of Armenia should make amendments to acknowledge hate speech and hate crimes and include them to the Criminal Code.”