The US Department of State last week released its annual publication “Country reports on human rights practices” which reviews the global human rights situation throughout the world.. The report highlights serious problems in the field of human rights in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and a systematic democratic deficit in the governance of the three countries. Many of the issues raised in the report have been reported on by Caucasus Elections Watch throughout last year, including the situation in prisons, problems with the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, harassment of opposition activists and problems with the electoral process.
We reproduce here the Executive Summaries of the report with regards to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The full report can be accessed at http://www.state.gov.
Armenia’s constitution provides for a republic with an elected head of state and a unicameral legislature, the National Assembly. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observers described the campaign leading to May 6 legislative elections as competitive but concluded violations of campaign provisions created an unequal playing field for participants and ran counter to the OSCE commitments. The ruling coalition, led by President Sargsian’s Republican Party of Armenia, continued to dominate the political system. Security forces reported to civilian authorities.
The most significant human rights problems during the year were limitations on the right of citizens to change their government, corruption and lack of transparency in government, and the limited independence of the judiciary. Flaws in the conduct of May 6 legislative elections included the misuse of government resources to support the ruling party, credible allegations of vote buying, deficiencies in the complaints and appeals process, and continued shortcomings in the electoral code despite improvements. Allegations of persistent corruption at all levels of government undermined the rule of law, although the government took limited steps to punish low- to mid-level official corruption. Courts remained subject to political pressure from the executive branch, which resulted in some politically motivated prosecutions and sentencing.
Other abuses reported during the year included suspicious deaths in the military under noncombat conditions, continued hazing and other mistreatment of conscripts by officers and fellow soldiers, and a lack of accountability for such actions. Police allegedly continued to employ torture to obtain confessions and reportedly beat citizens during arrest and interrogation. Many prisons were overcrowded, unsanitary, and lacking in medical services for inmates. Authorities continued to arrest and detain criminal suspects without reasonable suspicion and to detain individuals arbitrarily. Trials were often prolonged, and courts failed to enforce laws providing for fair trials. Laws against government intrusion on the right to privacy and unlawful searches were inadequately enforced.
The pre-election period was marked by diverse media coverage; however, the media continued to lack diversity of political opinion and objective reporting outside the campaign period. Members of religious minorities suffered from societal discrimination. Domestic violence remained a problem but largely went unreported to authorities. Human trafficking was a problem, which authorities made efforts to combat. Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in almost all areas of life. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons were subjected to societal abuse and discrimination by military and prison authorities. Workers’ rights were limited and labor laws weakly enforced.
Although the government took some steps to punish officials in the security forces and elsewhere who committed abuses, some members of the security forces continued to commit human rights abuses with impunity while under the direction of civilian leadership. The government issued a report in December 2011 on its investigation into the deaths of eight civilians and two police officers following the 2008 presidential election but, as of year’s end, had not held anyone accountable.
You can read the full section on Armenia on the website of the US State Department here
The Azerbaijan constitution provides for a republic with a presidential form of government. Legislative authority is vested in the Milli Mejlis (parliament). In practice the president dominated the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. The 2010 Milli Mejlis elections did not meet a number of key standards of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for democratic elections. Although there were more than 50 political parties, the president’s party, the Yeni Azerbaijan Party, dominated the political system. Separatists, with Armenia’s support, continued to control most of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven other Azerbaijani territories. The final status of Nagorno-Karabakh remained the subject of international mediation by the OSCE Minsk Group, cochaired by Russia, France, and the United States.
The most significant human rights problems during the year were:
1. Restrictions on freedom of expression, including intimidation, arrest, and use of force against journalists and human rights and democracy activists online and offline.
2. Restrictions on freedom of assembly. While the government approved three peaceful protests in the spring and released all persons arrested for participating in protests in spring 2011, it limited approved demonstrations to a location far from the center of Baku, regularly denied other applications for peaceful political protests, forcefully dispersed unsanctioned protests, and often detained demonstrators.
3. Unfair administration of justice, including continued reports of arbitrary arrest and detention, politically motivated imprisonment, lack of due process, executive influence over the judiciary, and lengthy pretrial detention. Authorities failed to provide due legal process with regard to property rights, resulting in forced evictions, demolition of buildings on dubious eminent domain grounds, and inadequate compensation for property taken by the state.
Other human rights problems reported during the year included reports of torture and abuse in police or military custody that resulted in at least four deaths; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; continued arbitrary invasions of privacy; restrictions on the religious freedom of some unregistered Muslim and Christian groups; constraints on political participation; corruption at all levels of government; continued official impediments to the registration of human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); violence against women; and trafficking in persons.
The government failed to take steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity remained a problem.
You can read the full section on Azerbaijan on the website of the US State Department here
The constitution of Georgia provides for an executive branch that reports to the president, a unicameral parliament, and a separate judiciary. Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Council of Europe found parliamentary elections held on October 1 to be an important step in consolidating democratic elections consistent with most democratic election commitments, but noted concerns. They reported the election was competitive, with active citizen participation throughout the campaign, including in peaceful rallies; however, they found the preelection environment polarized, tense, and characterized by the use of harsh rhetoric and a few instances of violence. The campaign was marred by harassment and intimidation of party activists and supporters, often ending with detentions or fines of mostly opposition-affiliated campaigners. The distinction between government resources and activities and the ruling United National Movement’s (UNM) campaign was blurred at times. The elections led to the first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since the country’s independence in 1992. Following the elections, which produced a majority in parliament for the opposition Georgian Dream (GD) coalition, its representatives assumed the prime ministerial and all other cabinet positions on October 25. The president remains in power until the next presidential election. Security forces reported to civilian authorities.
The most important human rights problems reported during the year were:
Torture and abuse of prisoners, detainees, and others by government corrections and law enforcement officials before the October change in government, as well as dangerously substandard prison conditions.
Shortfalls in the rule of law, such as lack of judicial independence and a lack of objective judicial scrutiny of executive actions, resulting in an uneven application of due process protections, which intensified in the campaign period before the October parliamentary elections.
Impediments to the exercise of the fundamental freedoms of association, assembly, and expression, particularly for members of the political opposition, combined with obstacles to political participation.
Other problems reported during the year included allegations of property transfers to the government under duress and improper government use of eminent domain to seize private property. A number of individuals reported being subjected to arbitrary harassment, job loss, and arrest that they alleged were related to the political activities of family members supporting the opposition GD coalition. Although parliament adopted a law requiring cable providers to offer all major news networks during the electoral campaign, during June and July the government seized satellite dishes that would have provided wider access to information outside the capital. Some journalists reported physical and verbal assaults by police and intimidation by government officials due to their reporting. Many internally displaced persons (IDPs) continued to live in substandard or squalid conditions. There were reports of irregularities in the parliamentary election campaign, including a blurring of the distinction between government resources and activities and the ruling party’s campaign, and multiple instances of the misuse of government institutional resources. After the parliamentary elections approximately 35 UNM mayors and city council chairs resigned, some allegedly under pressure. High-level government corruption was alleged. There were reportedly high rates of domestic violence. Georgia was primarily a source country, but also a transit country, for trafficking in persons. The government interfered with workers’ fundamental freedom of association in several areas, including arbitrary dismissals, interference with collection of dues, and harassment and intimidation of labor activists, largely before the October elections.
Although the government took some steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, the pre-election government frequently terminated or delayed investigations into such allegations, contributing to an atmosphere of impunity. However, after the parliamentary elections, more than 25 high-level former government officials were indicted on torture, abuse of power, and corruption-related charges.
De facto authorities in the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained outside the control of the central government. These authorities continued to be supported by several thousand Russian troops and border guards occupying the areas since the 2008 armed conflict between Russia and Georgia. A cease-fire remained in effect in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, although incidents of violence occurred in both areas. Russian border guards restricted the movement of the local populations. While there was little official information on the human rights and humanitarian situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia due to limited access to these regions, many allegations of abuse persisted. De facto authorities continued to restrict the rights, primarily of ethnic Georgians, to vote or otherwise participate in the political process, own property, register businesses, and travel. The de facto South Ossetian authorities refused to permit most ethnic Georgians driven out during and after the 2008 conflict to return to South Ossetia. With the exception of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), de facto authorities did not allow international organizations regular access to South Ossetia to provide humanitarian assistance.
You can read the full section on Georgia on the website of the US State Department here