(June 26, 2012) On May 16, 2012, the Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia issued a statement addressing recent police abuse and the use of excessive power by law enforcement. (Ombudsman Offers Chief of Police to Establish Criteria on Rallies, NEWS.AM (May 16, 2012).) The statement was in response to excessive force used by police to break up mass gatherings in Yerevan's Mashtots Park, organized by environmentalists who had requested de-installation of shops in the park, and to police actions against hunger strikes in front of the Armenian Central Election Commission building protesting against unfair elections. (The Ombudsman Demands Restoring Peaceful Demonstrators Right to Have a Single Tent in Mashtots Park, Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia official website (Mar. 15, 2012); Where Is the Content of the Right of Assembly Written [in Armenian] [comment written in response to a May 3, 2012, article in THE VISION, an Armenian newspaper], Armenian Police website (May 5, 2012).)
Because the police applied different standards to demonstrators and organizers of public events in similar situations, the Ombudsman suggested a review of some provisions of the Law on Freedom of Assembly. He said that clear standards have to be established for police when dealing with the protection of public order during assemblies. (Ombudsman Offers Chief of Police to Establish Criteria on Rallies, supra.) To that end, a working group with the purpose of determining the rights and obligations of the organizers of assemblies and of police officers will be formed. (Human Rights Defender Suggests Chief of Police to Jointly Develop Strict Standards, Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia official website (May 16, 2012).)
The Armenian Law on Freedom of Assembly currently in force does not regulate these issues. It appears that the goal of the working group will be to develop suggestions on implementation of the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission) recommendations. Those recommendations indicated that the present version of the Law does not reflect the state's positive duty to protect peaceful assembly and does not provide for police facilitation of the holding of assemblies or protection of those participating in them. (Interim Joint Opinion on the Draft Law on Assemblies of the Republic of Armenia by the Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR, ¶ 65 (Dec. 22, 2010).)
Another important issue for discussion will be the development of guarantees that organizers of demonstrations will not be held liable either for the failure to perform their responsibilities if they made reasonable efforts to do so or for actions of individual participants or agents provocateurs. (Id. ¶ 41.)
The head of the Armenian police deemed the proposal a constructive step and agreed to cooperate on the above-mentioned issues. (Police Praises Ombudsman's Initiative to Discuss Rally Freedom Related Problem [in Armenian], NEWS.AM (May 17, 2012).) The Armenian Law on Freedom of Assembly was adopted by the Parliament on April 14, 2011; an English translation is available at http://legislationline.org/documents/action/popup/id/16523 (last visited June 22, 2012).
Written by Virab Khachatryan, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Peter Roudik, Director of the Global Legal Research Center.