Monday, 25 June 2007

UNHCR Review of Gay Rights in Armenia (2003-2005)

Armenia: The situation of homosexuals and lesbians; public perception of gays and lesbians; availability of state protection and whether there exist state programs to promote the respect of their human rights (January 2003 - December 2005)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officially published in its website the above review. It was originally conducted by Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada as ‘Responses to Information Requests’ (RIRs) and published in Ottawa on 19 January 2006.

Background info from Agency’s website:
RIRs respond to focused queries or Requests for Information that are submitted to the Research Directorate in the course of the refugee protection determination process.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Personal Notes:
It should be noted that this review reflects 2003-2005 years. Since then, some positive changes occurred in Armenia. Particularly, gay or gay-friendly venues emerged in Armenian capital, Yerevan, which was unthinkable just a year or two ago. Also, the first LGBT NGO called Menk (“We For Civil Equality”) was founded and registered by Ministry of Justice in July 2006. It was referred in this review as not yet established “Self-Help Group”.

However, main issues raised in this review still exist and need urgent attention. There is still widespread homophobia in Armenian society and lack of legal protection of LGBT people whose human rights are violated. Gay men and lesbians are subjected to both verbal and physical homophobic abuse in everyday life and are ill-treated by law-enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, due to known reasons, these facts generally remain unreported and mainly based on anecdotal evidence. Moreover, as stated in this review, till now “Armenia[n] legislation does not contain a single provision on discrimination based on or due to sexual orientation”.

Today, speaking to RFE/RL (Radio Liberty), Avet Adonts, chairman of parliamentary committee to promote Armenia’s integration into European structures, stressed his group’s intention to “harmonize Armenia’s laws with those adopted by EU countries”. He rightly pointed out that “laws alone will not bring Armenia closer to Europe. “Public opinion in Armenia is not quite prepared for European integration,” he said. “Many think that it is being imposed on us. We have to explain, we have to work actively with non-governmental organizations.”

I hope Adonts, a career diplomat, understands that EU-like laws mean also equality and protection of human rights, including specific anti-discrimination laws to protect rights of minority groups, in this case, LGBT people. We’ve yet to hear from Armenian Ombudsman if/how he intends to incorporate gay rights into the agenda of Human Rights Defender of Republic of Armenia. European institutions, international bodies and local organisations, along with representatives of gay community, should keep these issues high in their agenda while dealing with Armenia’s European aspirations, which are my aspirations too.

For details and a copy of UNHCR review, see Unzipped: Gay Armenia

*Many thanks to M. M. for info about this publication!

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