ARMENIAN RIGHTS WATCH COMMITTEE STATEMENT ON UNLAWFUL PRE-TRIAL DETENTION IN WAKE OF RECENT PROTESTS IN YEREVAN
The Past is Prologue: A Nation Cannot Survive Treason From Within
“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman Senate, circa 45 B.C.
A somber death knell for civil rights intensifies in the Armenian homeland, dreadfully unabated from within the Republic and willfully unnoticed outside of it. Over the last several days, Armenian men and women simply have been disappeared into prisons, their children left parentless, their spouses left helpless. As if days of beatings and excessive force by policing authorities were not enough, the Armenian citizen now bears witness to the unyielding agony of the unlawful pretrial detention.
The Armenian Rights Watch Committee (ARWC) condemns the continued pretrial detention of numerous Armenians arrested in the wake of recent protests in Armenia against the Republic’s ruling regime. The blood not yet dry on those very streets liberated from oppression just 25 years ago, the ruling authorities now find appetite to trample unapologetically on the laws protecting citizens against unlawful pretrial detention. In doing so, they again hinder hope for civil and human rights and press another nail into the coffin of the rule of law.
The rules governing pretrial detention are clear. Article 5(3) of the European Convention on Human Rights states that “[e]veryone arrested or detained . . . shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release pending trial.” (Emphasis added). This norm is echoed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which requires, at Article 9(3), that “[a]nyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge . . . shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release.” (Emphasis added). Armenia ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 2002. It acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1993. Ironically, Article 6 of the very Constitution which ruling authorities imposed upon the Armenian people only a few months ago—amidst vote-rigging and electoral fraud—expressly incorporates these international obligations into the law of the Republic.
Pretrial detention is warranted only in specific circumstances—and only after a showing of certain factors by authorities. The case law of the European Court makes clear that the seriousness of the offense, the danger actually posed to society by the accused, the applicable penalties and flight risk are factors that should be considered in pretrial detention circumstances. See Punzelt v. Czech Republic (31315/96)  ECHR 169 (25 April 2000) at par. 73-76. The Court has emphasized the need for authorities to conduct proceedings with “special diligence” when the accused is in pretrial detention. W. v. Switzerland (14379/88  ECHR 1 (26 January 1993) at par. 30.
The continued deprivation of liberty, therefore, requires an actual showing by the authorities: “The persistence of a reasonable suspicion that the person arrested has committed an offence is a condition sine qua non for the validity of the continued detention but, after a certain lapse of time, it no longer suffices: the Court must then establish whether the other grounds cited by the judicial authorities continued to justify the deprivation of liberty.” See Assenov and others v. Bulgaria (24760/84)  ECHR 98 (28 October 1998) at par. 154 (emphasis added). The rule is well established in American jurisprudence as well, requiring the government to make an actual showing that the accused is a “flight risk” and/or a “danger to the community” to warrant continued incarceration.
In light of what is nearly universal jurisprudence in civilized societies, the regime’s blatant disregard of the law governing pretrial detention is nothing short of appalling. To be clear, as to a number of those arrested by the regime over the last few weeks, the ARWC has yet to learn of any sufficient showing for the continued deprivation of their liberty—let alone a compelling one.
Cynics will lobby that we are injecting law into a world of political realities. However, while civil society in Armenia continues to be gutted by acts patently disregarding the rule of law, political forces should remain mindful that one cannot embrace the ruler but claim innocence when he rules. To be clear: even in politics, there must be a line in the sand—and the trampling of civil and human rights is usually a pretty good indicator for where that line should be.
ARMENIAN RIGHTS WATCH COMMITTEE — ARWC
ARMENIAN BAR ASSOCIATION