Following the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued just over a year ago, Armenia reported on implementation of measures concerning two priority issues.
The experts of the Committee had earlier pointed to an extremely small number of citizens’ legal appeals on cases of racial discrimination. In response to the recommendations of the Committee’s experts and in order to ensure access of ethnic minorities to justice, the Armenian authorities started the work on a draft law “On Ethnic Minorities”, which should guarantee implementation of the rights of the latter (including preservation of ethnic identity and traditions, establishment of the right to use native language, the right to education, religion, etc.). However, the law also provides for a change in the status of the existing advisory body of ethnic minorities in Armenia: a special commission is to be formed within the Public Council affiliated with the Ministry of Justice, which will replace the currently existing Coordinating Council of Ethnic Minorities under the Prime Minister. Armenian authorities announced a public discussion of the draft law through the Internet, as well as consultations with ethnic minorities and the representatives of civil society. But despite the fact that the draft law was criticized, this was not taken into account in the amendments made to the bill. Among other things, some representatives of ethnic communities expressed their concerns about the decreased authority and importance of the body, which deals with issues of ethnic minorities, due to a change in the status of this specialized body. The draft of the bill itself is available on the website only in Armenian language, which can make it difficult for ethnic minorities to access the text and make suggestions for improving the draft law.
Another measure aimed at improving the situation of ethnic minorities, according to the information provided by the Armenian government, is the planned enactment of the “Law on Ensuring Equality”, which is part of the government’s plan for the defending human rights for the period of 2017-2019. Consideration of this draft law was planned for the parliamentary session in autumn 2018, but there are doubts now that the draft will be on the agenda. In addition to that, representatives of civil society indicated that the authorities deliberately avoided the wording, which was not approved by the Armenian society, and renamed the anti-discrimination law. The draft law also does not include the qualifying features of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) discrimination, which in some cases determines multiple discrimination, including that of ethnic minorities.
The second priority recommendation made by the UN CERD concerned discrimination against non-citizens, refugees and asylum-seekers on grounds of religion or ethnic or national origin. Previously, the problem of implementation of the rights to asylum and citizenship of ethnic non-Armenians was raised in the alternative reports, which were made by the Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial” and the Armenian Institute of Civil Society.
Despite the amendments introduced into the “Law on Refugees and Asylum” in December 2015, which provided for improvement in the legal procedure of obtaining documents and expanding the rights of refugees, especially those of vulnerable categories, the problem of obtaining state legal aid have not been resolved. Free legal advice is often provided by non-governmental organizations, which do not have sufficient resources for this.
Despite the delay in adopting comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in Armenia after many years of work, civil society hopes that this legal act will be adopted not only nominally, but will in fact protect all vulnerable categories of citizens from various forms of discrimination, including multiple discrimination.