Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Armenia is a constitutional republic with a population of approximately 3.2 million. The constitution provides for an elected president and a unicameral legislature (the National Assembly). The country has a multiparty political system. The significantly flawed 2008 presidential elections resulted in a political crisis that remains unresolved. On March 1, 2008, the government used force to disperse demonstrators, arrested scores of protestors, and imposed a 20-day state of emergency that severely restricted media freedoms and the right of assembly. Clashes between demonstrators and security forces resulted in 10 deaths. The government's human rights record deteriorated significantly after the March violence. Authorities used harassment and intrusive application of bureaucratic measures to intimidate and retaliate against government opponents. Police beat pretrial detainees and failed to provide due process in some cases. The National Security Service and the police acted with impunity and engaged in arbitrary arrest and detention; courts remained subject to political pressure from the executive branch, with the selective prosecution of political opponents and absence of due process reflecting the judiciary’s lack of independence; prison conditions remained cramped and unhealthy; and authorities did not always respect citizens' privacy. Journalists continued to practice self-censorship, the government enacted a controversial two-year moratorium on new TV and radio licenses, and the government and laws restricted religious freedom. Violence against women and spousal abuse, trafficking in persons, discrimination against persons with disabilities, and societal harassment of homosexuals also were reported.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The U.S. democracy and human rights strategy focuses on promoting democratic institutions and processes, political pluralism, an independent media, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, a vibrant civil society, respect for human rights, freedom of religion, and institutional capacity of government agencies and NGOs to combat trafficking in persons. U.S. assistance has worked to improve electoral systems, procedures, and infrastructure, as well as to enhance the role of civil society in promoting democratic electoral processes. Continued implementation of the country’s Compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) that entered into force in September 2006 depends on progress in democratic practices and on its policy performance on MCC’s "Ruling Justly" indicators. This reinforces the importance of promoting democratic and human rights reforms to underpin the broader bilateral relationship.

In response to the flawed presidential elections and other democratic backsliding in Armenia in 2008, the United States has intensified work with civil society, independent media, local government, women and youth activists, and reformers within the government to reverse negative trends and respond to public demand for reform and democratization. Promoting the engagement of informed citizens in political processes and encouraging a more representative political culture are particularly critical in reversing anti-democratic trends. Through a wide array of assistance programs, the United States seeks to support government watchdogs and human rights organizations to increase accountability and transparency in the government, and to support anticorruption efforts that foster a culture of lawfulness among both the government and the governed. The United States also has continued pursuing its key objective of combating trafficking in persons in the country.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

U.S. officials use diplomatic engagement to promote democracy and human rights-related goals with government officials, political parties, civil society, and media representatives at all levels, and also regularly convey these messages through local media. Key activities included pressing for due process rights for jailed political figures, freedom of assembly, media freedom, and accountability for government actions during the 2008 elections and the ensuing political crisis. U.S. officials repeatedly have warned the government that MCC funding is contingent upon its progress in democratic practices and in meeting the MCC indicators, and the United States withheld some funding during the year when setbacks occurred. The United States continues to implement its three-year democracy promotion strategy, part of which focuses on raising the integrity of the country’s electoral processes in the months before Yerevan mayoral elections in May 2009. The United States provided a broad array of assistance to promote free and fair presidential elections in February 2008. This included programs to improve the accuracy of the country's national voter list; strengthen election administration; increase voter awareness of elections-related public policy issues; strengthen the capacity of political parties to develop constituencies and issue-based platforms that respond to citizen interests; improve media coverage of the campaign and public policy issues; promote citizen participation; and enhance the ability of judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers to handle election-related grievances. U.S. efforts in support of an independent judiciary included providing translations and training to prosecutors and judges on case law supporting the European Convention on Human Rights. U.S. efforts also have been crucial in the drafting of a Judicial Code of Ethics, a law on the defense bar, and an annual bar exam that admits new attorneys in a transparent and objective manner. The United States continues to conduct training programs for judges, prosecutors, attorneys, and police with the aim of bringing law enforcement and judicial practices into line with international standards. These training programs have focused on a defendant’s right to confront witnesses, domestic violence, financial crime investigations, and the investigation and prosecution of corruption.

While the United States continues to support the development of more professional and sustainable media outlets and to promote independent regional media organizations, new emphasis is being placed on supporting the development of alternative sources of information and raising awareness of the law on freedom of information among government officials, journalists, lawyers, judges, NGOs, members of parliament, and political party members. Additionally, the United States provided funding to train journalists in international journalism standards. The United States further supports freedom of information via support of four American Corners that provide information about U.S. democratic institutions. To promote the rule of law and fight corruption, the United States advocates for improved anticorruption legislation that limits judicial discretion in sentencing and increases penalties for perjury, bribery, and related crimes. The United States also provides funding to civil society groups to investigate and expose corruption in schools and the court system. U.S. assistance works to reduce corruption by establishing and supporting Advocacy and Action Centers in four regions. These centers provide support to citizens to help resolve corruption-related problems, offer legal assistance, and provide a mechanism for reporting corruption and directing complaints to government agencies. In addition, the program strengthens anticorruption institutions, including the government's Human Rights Defender (ombudsman). Separately, a U.S.-funded legal socialization project was implemented in over 150 secondary schools to teach students about their rights and responsibilities under the law, and radio series were sponsored to raise awareness on human rights and combating corruption.
U.S. officials promote a vibrant civil society by encouraging the government, independent and opposition political parties, and civil society organizations to engage in constructive dialogue on governance issues. With U.S. funding, local advocacy NGOs pursue initiatives to promote human rights, democratic development, fair and transparent electoral processes, political party development, and civil society. U.S.-supported NGOs also continue to make inroads in supporting mental health care, building capacity to plan and execute advocacy campaigns, lobbying on major environmental cases, and strengthening dialogue between local authorities and communities on local issues. A grassroots youth community action program in more than 80 communities throughout the country has mobilized youth to address local issues and tackle community problems through advocacy and direct action.

To promote respect for human rights, U.S. officials maintain collaborative relations with local human rights defenders and human rights NGOs. U.S. funding for some of these NGOs helped improve independent reporting of human rights abuses. Other funding allowed for trial monitoring of court cases of opposition members arrested for their role in protests related to the presidential elections. In response to a government request for assistance to set up an independent commission to investigate the March 1-2 violence, U.S. officials suggested, and subsequently arranged and funded, a visit to the country by former members of the U.S. 9/11 Commission staff to share their bipartisan experience on investigating a national crisis. U.S. funding also provided training to youth throughout the country on the themes of tolerance, mutual understanding, human rights, and democratic values. Additional funding supported public awareness campaigns, training programs, and shelters for victims of domestic violence. U.S. officials frequently discuss religious freedom problems with government and religious leaders as part of the overall policy to promote human rights. To combat human trafficking, U.S. officials meet regularly with government interlocutors and members of the international antitrafficking working group to support their efforts. U.S. officials monitor trafficking trials and propose recommendations on antitrafficking policy and funding objectives to the government, and U.S. antitrafficking assistance provides annual funding to a shelter that offers safe haven, medical, social, and legal services for victims of trafficking. U.S. assistance also continues to provide training for the Border Guards Service, the National Security Service, and the police on antitrafficking prevention and detection efforts. Other funding supports raising public awareness about the forms and dangers of trafficking.