OF THE EASTERN PARTNERSHIP CIVIL SOCIETY FORUM
ON DEVELOPMENTS IN THE CIVIL SOCIETY OF ARMENIA
November 30, 2012
The Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum expresses its concern with the recent developments in the environment surrounding the civil society in Armenia that are assessed by the national delegation to the CSF 4th Assembly as an attempt to increase the government’s influence on associations.
There are intensified efforts to expand the controversial model of the Public Council under the President of Armenia, which now tends to migrate from consultative decreed body to the position of the main representative of the Armenian civil society.
This body elaborated a concept paper on the development of the civil society, which, among other suggestions, endorses the principle of “interpenetration” of CSOs and government organizations, claims the expediency of “consolidation of the civil society”, proposes formation of public councils under different ministries, states the necessity to “regulate” the foreign funding and establish a centralized funding facility, states the need for closely “watching” and auditing the activities of charitable organizations. These measures apparently contain a danger of undermining the idea of freedom of association, alienating independent watchdog organizations, silencing critical voices, and substituting broader and genuine public participation with imitated democracy. It is expected that these efforts will culminate in the adoption of a Law “On the Public Council of the Republic of Armenia”.
The initiative of the Public Council was especially concerning as it followed and was partially based on earlier disseminated draft recommendations of the EU Advisory Group to the Republic of Armenia, aimed at strengthening the civil society.
Though there have been no cases of direct official restrictions of the freedom of assembly in the recent months, however several peaceful events on certain matters, including diversity issues, LGBT and women’s rights, were countered by attacks of violent groups. It is a cause for concern that no proper investigation was carried out by the law enforcement bodies and nobody was made formally responsible for these attacks. Besides, there are a significant number of instances when the state officials, as well as government-controlled media targeted individual CSOs with an assertion that those put at risk the country’s security and the national identity.
The above-mentioned processes are viewed by the independent CSOs as a continuation of several unfinished attempts of the recent years by the government of Armenia aimed at increasing the control over the civil society sector. Those particularly included legal drafts imposing restrictions of foreign funding, obstacles for CSO lobbying, increased powers for executive control and abolishment of CSOs, etc.
We condemn the initiatives of the authorities of Armenia that may lead to creating obstacles for the work of CSOs and demand that absolute fulfillment of the freedom of association in accordance with international commitments is ensured.