Human Rights and the RA Armed Forces



A US Marine walks towards food supplies in Helmand Province, Afghanistan
Photograph: Anja Niedringhaus/AP

For many years, the issue of human rights in the army remains one of the most urgent problems of concern to human rights groups and organizations around the world. Today this situation in the relatively young Armenian army concerns the representatives of civil society groups active in Armenia, as well as prominent international organizations.

In their reports various independent public organizations in the country indicate a high degree of mortality among the soldiers, expressing their concern about the regular violations, violence, inaction of the military investigative bodies and a number of responsible military structures.

Armenia’s human rights activists estimate that since the cessation of hostilities in Karabakh in 1994, as many as 1,500 young men have died while serving in Armenian armed forces. In 2013 according to various sources 30 to 31 people died during non-combat situation.

Throughout recent years, large segments of society have been aware of the fatalities in the army. Despite that, they continue to happen and other negative occurrences are also increasing in frequency.

The merging of politics and the army

The army is directly dependent on the political processes. The generals in the army are closely related to the atrocious business of politics and during each election and post-election period they become a tool for the authorities. It is also due to this that relations between authorities and the military are organized according to the rules of the criminal world, not the statutory law.

Corruption and lawlessness

According to the observations carried out by human rights activists, the army is one of the branches of a system of corruption where lawlessness exists between soldiers. Commanders of different ranks attempt to augment their income at the expense of the private soldiers. Commanders offer or force soldiers to pay bribes for a leave, easier assignments (e.g., clerical work, computer operator, quartermaster, or clothes storage inspector), and even for the basic needs of the unit (e.g., medical service, etc.). It has become a prevalent occurrence to extort the soldiers’ legal wages.

Senior officers make the soldiers sign for their salary although they have not received all of it. According to observations, these amounts of money reach a huge number for a whole unit that is later transferred to the high ranking officers.

High ranking officers confess in their public speeches that the commanders of the units often conceal some small and medium crimes to create an illusion that there is high level of discipline in their unit. Such actions promote an atmosphere of impunity in the units and result in heavier crimes.

The activities of the Investigative Service of the RA Ministry of Defense, Military Police of the RA Ministry of Defense, and RA Military Prosecutor’s office also encourage this phenomenon. These bodies, which are merged into and supplement each other, very often conceal the crimes. For example, intentional homicides are presented as suicides, involuntary murders, by negligence, etc. Murders committed in the military posts very often are presented as murders committed by the adversary. Because these three organizations cooperate together and there are no external controls, it becomes possible to conceal a chain of illegalities.

As a result, the murders are not revealed because the crime scene, the causes of death, or the tools are being falsified. Preliminary investigations are carried out based on fake facts and lead to conclusions that do not correspond to the actual course of events. And even in the last phase, the court, many rules of fair judgment are violated (e.g. facts obtained illegally are being presented as proof) and then a decision is made (if it is made) that in fact does not reflect the reality and does not assign appropriate punishment for those who are guilty. Moreover it may sentence innocent people instead of those who are guilty.

Basically, the beating, torture, and humiliation of the soldiers by the officers have become widespread and systematic. Such occurrences very often are revealed during the preliminary investigation of murder cases, since beating and torture most often precede the murders. Exception can be considered in such cases as when beating and torture lead to grave consequences such as the disability of soldiers.

The symptoms of strictly vertical regulations

The Armenian army in itself is a structure that, having strictly vertical functions, is corrupted, perhaps, just like the other social institutions in Armenia. However, in the case of the army the vertical and strictly confidential relations are more favorable for corruption and generating non-statutory and illegal relations. This structure, which is supposed to be a part of a democratic society, has not changed much from the Soviet totalitarian period. It includes symptoms that are possible to eliminate only by introduction and strengthening of horizontal relations.

Lack of working mechanisms of human rights protection and the atmosphere of impunity

According to the disciplinary statute of the armed forces, the soldiers have clearly defined rights and responsibilities. It mentions all the mechanisms with the help of which they can protect their rights. But in reality it does not work. So-called unwritten or “criminal rules” function in all the units, which are strengthened by the imperfection and inconsistency of the law.

For instance, Chapter 5, Paragraph 116,117 of the law says that, in the case of the use of violence and other violations exercised by superior, the subordinate is supposed to report to someone in a higher position then the violator. In reality, he cannot do that. In the best case, the superior in charge will just not take the report into consideration. In the worst scenario, the daring soldier may be hurt. Moreover, according to the disciplinary statute, each of the authorities in various positions has the right to subject his subordinates to disciplinary isolation. Only the commander of the unit has the right to subject soldiers to maximum isolation up to 10 days. This paragraph of the document contradicts the RA constitution, according to which “a person may only be deprived of his liberty by the final decision of a court.”

Saying that the Army and the three main observing structures, the RA Military prosecutor’s office, the RA MD Criminal Investigation Service, and the Military Police, are completely corrupted authorities, it is also necessary to mention that, since independence, each unit, including the regional military commissariats and the military hospitals, have been paying annual bribes to the observing authorities, on mutual agreement. Under such conditions, the two parties (the unit and the observing authority) come to a mutual agreement. The result of this agreement is that the soldier has no chance to complain against his superior officer. He can in theory but it will not have any practical effect.

Realizing this, the MD Minister ordered in 1988 that a mailbox be put in each unit where the soldiers and the officers of lower ranks would be able put their complaints and report any crimes in the unit. These mailboxes were protected by a guarantee that, by the same order, the boxes were to be stamped by the employees of the RA MD Supervising, who were supposed to take out the complaints, check their contents, and take measures according to the law.

In fact, this did not work because the commanders of the unit were able to bribe the observing employees to find out the content of the complaints and the identity of the complainant.

The soldiers’ low level of awareness about the law and the incompetence of the officers also strengthen negative occurrences. The lack of a state-sponsored approach in introducing a culture of respect towards human rights deliberately promotes a lack of rule of law among the soldiers.

The relationship between the NK Defense Army and the RA armed forces

Taking into consideration that soldiers who leave Armenia to serve in Nagorno-Karabakh do not serve in RA MD units but in the NK Defense Army, that is to say the army of a foreign country, there are numerous obstacles created in terms of law and legality. According to Article 8.2 of the RA Constitution, the armed forces of the Republic of Armenia shall ensure security, defense, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia, as well as inviolability of its borders.

Another contradiction is the fact that the RA Military Prosecutor’s Office, the Military Police, the RA MD Investigation Service, and the Syunik First Regional Court function in Nagorno-Karabakh. These institutions have the right to arrest, indict and judge soldiers who are citizens of NK. In other words; Armenia has the right to administer justice in another state towards the citizens of another state. This very often results in various legal contradictions.

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