Armenia: Changes to conscription likely as imprisonment of conscientious objectors resumes

In August two new conscientious objectors were imprisoned in Armenia - both Jehovah's Witnesses - after a break of a year. This brings the number of COs imprisoned in Armenia to 32. Additionally, 16 people (also Jehovah's Witnesses) have been given jail terms in 2012 but have yet to be incarcerated as their appeals are pending. There are a further 23 cases waiting to be heard.

In a statement to Forum 18 Jehovah's Witnesses complained that "the authorities, at least at the lower levels, seem to be completely ignoring the Bayatyan ruling".

Deputy Justice Minister Ruben Melikyan dismissed the suggestion that the continuing sentencing and imprisonment of conscientious objectors violates Armenia's Council of Europe commitments and requirements under the Bayatyan and other ECtHR judgments, saying "Those cases were lodged back in 2003 and relate to the situation before Armenia's Alternative Service Law was adopted".

Told that ECtHR judgments require states to take action to ensure that violations cannot recur and that the Council of Europe and the United Nations have repeatedly told Armenia that the 2003 Alternative Service Law (amended in 2004 and 2006) does not meet Armenia's international human rights obligations, Melikyan repeated his assertion that these judgements only cover the past. "We don't agree with colleagues [abroad] that the Bayatyan judgment covers today," he told Forum 18. "It is a different situation now."

Also in August, Defence Minister Seyran Ohanyan announced a shift toward a professional army in Armenia: "because of our geographical conditions, we will take steps to expand the professional component and try to gradually increase the contractual service...We are just switching from the principle of mandatory term service into a principle of contractual recruitment services”.

A spokesperson for the Defence Minister later suggested that one cause of this policy change is draft evasion, saying that "The current system has mechanisms inherited from soviet times and they don't prove their value...parents of soldiers do hundreds of new tricks every year which violate the principles of fair military conscription".

Sources: Forum 18 Armenia: Jailings of conscientious objectors resume, 20 September 2012; Mediamax, Fundamental changes to be made to Armenian conscription system, 17 August 2012; Armenpress, Armenian Defense Ministry implements professional component expansion steps in the armed forces, 14 August 2012