They Force the Society to Seek “Sponsors”


Interview with Artak Kirakosyan, General Secretary of International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), Chairman of the Board of Civil Society Institute NGO

In general, on the international day of human rights people talk about issues. What kind of global issues do you see in this field?

There is a tendency toward worsening of situation in the region, particularly in respect of security of human rights defenders. In Russia a series of sad- in terms of human rights- laws was adopted, including the law on “foreign agents” and the law on state secret. In Kazakhstan, human rights defenders are under continuous threat of arrest or trials. The situation drastically deteriorates in Azerbaijan. In countries of the Central Asia the situation has been bad for many years, and now the antidemocratic circle narrows and gets closer to Armenia. In this regard, the threat is felt and there are reasons for concern. 

What are the grounds of the situation's decline?

The most fundamental reason lay in the fact that after the Soviet Union collapse the main issue on the agenda was to obtain freedom in various areas- political, economic, freedom of speech etc., and the West continues supporting this struggle for freedom.

Definitely, it is not possible to do without freedom, but the emphasis should not be placed only there. Freedom without social justice brings to the situation that one group of people becomes more free, unrestricted, to oppress the others, and leads to formation of oligarchic systems. So, in these circumstances, a public demand for changes addressing social justice, arises.

Nevertheless, unfortunately, agendas of political parties do not include issues of social justice. Then the public demand for social justice becomes complemented with sponsorship. Such as “Aliyev has lots of money but he also thinks of us”, “Nazarbayev is rich, but a piece falls also to our lot”, “Ivanishvili is very rich, he will share a part of his wealth with people”, “Putin does social welfare programs”, and in Armenia it is Gagik Tsarukyan's phenomena “I am reach, but I will also help you”.

This situation is really very dangerous, because it evokes not from the political-ideological struggle or movement but from the concept of seeking sponsorship in the form of ”who will take care of us?” option.

What are the most acute problems in the field of human rights in Armenia?

The general ones are social -economic problems. If we do not pay attention to these problems, then we will have a situation that we have now: wide circles of the public will prefer to have less freedom but to solve at least some social issues.

The last elections prove what I am saying here. People voted not for a political force but for the sponsor: “he is our Taron's (Markaryan- the mayor of Yerevan) brother in-law, we will vote for him because of Taron, because he does or will do some things for us”.

This is a very dangerous trend, it is calling to our political parties to change their agendas. Otherwise, the people will prefer minimal social security to good ideas or freedoms, realization of which is still linked to money.

Thus, the main ideology demanded by public, which will be followed by the public, is social justice. There is a global issue of capitalism, and in our region it is realized in specific forms. Nevertheless, politicians blame the public instead of trying to address this social demand.

Then does it mean that elections will not change anything in the life of people?

Ideally, elections have to change the situation. But, as I said, the political agendas are rejected by the public, so they go and vote for “sponsors”, and it results in the situation in which the right to vote, in reality, does not serve its purpose.  And it breaks the national solidarity and belief that after elections everything will change.

I think that this is not a crisis in the sphere of human rights, as the same issues were present also before, but there is a serious political crisis. Political parties should change their agendas, and it is important that the civil society stipulates formation of a new political agenda but without involving much into political struggle, without becoming “political”, not as it was recently declared:”there are no worthy political parties, let's create one”.

The agenda for human rights becomes more complicated and I think that a thorough work is required, and it is being implemented by civil society groups, ranging from environmental small problems to defending concrete individuals' rights. This agenda implies a long-term, difficult struggle, in which the civil society has serious things to do.

What the non-governmental organizations have to do to change the political agenda?

Think tank organizations should be created and they should aim at durable tasks, and together with mass media, they should dictate agenda to political parties.

Political parties, authorities always and around the world have the same issues – they think from elections to elections and in the end their aim is to win elections and keep the power or reach the power. So they act in response to reality and aim at short-term interests.

The vision for our future is vague, and there is a danger that one day the situation of “seeking sponsors” will result in aliyev's or nazarbayev's type of authoritarian system such as “our king takes care of us”.

What about recent reforms in the justice system: did they change anything or it was just a program that the government implemented for the sake of doing it?

There isan important element, about which I am even afraid to talk as we lack it tremendously: it is the issue of morality. The judge should be moral. As long as our agenda lacks morality and common sense, nothing will change regardless whatever reforms they implement.

We, in reality, do not have any public response to the activity of judges. The judges look like sitting in underground making their decisions.  There should be public control, because the judges play with people's fates and we should demonstrate that a concrete judge made such and such decision, which made people unhappy.

I observed some court trials and had an impression that morality was not considered by judges at all. They are led by other standards, such as “being within or outside the law”, but this is a closed system and the independence of judiciary is not going to save the situation.

What solutions do you propose?

First of all, the light should be shed upon the judges that their activities appear in front of our sight and are clearly seen.

I would propose that instead of legal and judicial reforms they broadcast on television a trial on an ordinary criminal case, from the beginning to the end, that everybody see how the judge deals with people, how the prosecutors behave in the court, that people see with whom they have to deal and wake up, get sober. Because the judicial system is very closed, they have their own norms, it can be said that they act like a mafia, they coordinate their decisions with their bosses, and there are other issues, about which lawyers speak out. But all this stays invisible for the public.

There should be a public pressure. In the Mashtots square the president made a call out of the frame of his authorities: “it is not nice”, which has to become an idiom. It is not nice, that A1+ does not have a regular air, it is not nice that Tigran Arakelyan is convicted for 6 years, and there are many other ugly things like the behavior of judges, prosecutors and other.

We all should get together and organize a public pressure to awake the feeling of shame. For the judicial system I see this as the most real thing. Otherwise nothing will change, whether we implement reforms or not: in the best mode it will become a closed system where judges defend each other, or serve one another out, and in the worst mode, it will also become corrupt, and they will start to serve the authorities because we live in a society where everybody needs “sponsorship”, including the judges.

In line with the all the problems you mentioned are there any positive changes in the field of the human rights?

All these problems have also a positive side. Elections now are more transparent than in 1990-s, the pressure, physical violation almost disappeared. Before people participated in elections, but instead of real elections they were fed with something totally different. Now the election results do not cause much hesitance and I hope that this tendency will continue.

Another positive change is that we have the concept of human rights developed so far that it is not perceived any longer a monopoly of “NGOs eating grants” but as a societal issue, demand. Five years ago, when I was saying that my occupation is defending human rights, people would look at me curiously as they would not understand what it is at all. But now we have citizens, activists, who fight for human rights in different areas and this is accepted, welcomed by the public.

Our society is very critical, which is very positive thing. We have a big mass of people who are inclined to go through changed. Now it is the time that we formulate a right agenda for the changes. It is already clear that political party agendas do not satisfy us, then we ourselves, as civil society, activists, intellectuals have to form the agenda. Otherwise, we will have a state of sponsors with all its negative forms and will bring the sponsorship from the shadow into the legal realm, which happened in Georgia, when Ivanishvili was elected. 

Interview by Mary Alexanyan