The Year in Review: New Programme in Armenia

Armenia, a small mountainous country in the South Caucasus, has recently embarked on ambitious reform processes. The 2018 “Velvet Revolution” provided a window of opportunity for change. But, it also highly polarised the Armenian society around a number of human rights issues, such as domestic violence and LGBT rights.

Further destabilisation and polarisation came in 2020 with the re-escalation of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and Covid-19 pandemic. Armenia’s impressive reform agenda consequently faces delays, insufficient application in practice and a risk of its discontinuation due to political factors. This reiterates the need for human rights awareness and the compliance with international human rights standards in both design and implementation of reforms.

The complex situation requires a complex response.

“Building on our expertise and experience from other contexts, we work with various actors to integrate international human rights standards and contribute to reform,” says Zuzana Zalanova, the RWI Director of the Europe Office. “Specifically, we contribute to two areas of research and reform.

Firstly, we work with academic institutions and affiliated professionals, to increase the capacity to produce and disseminate human rights knowledge.

Secondly, we work with justice sector representatives to integrate international human rights standards in the implementation of the respective reform processes. Finally, we support collaboration of actors from across sectors, such as academia and civil society, to discuss, analyse, and address key human rights issues in Armenia.” “We hope to contribute to the ongoing initiatives, such as National Human Rights Action Plan, and existing educational and research activities,” says, Zalanova.

“We also intend to initiate catalytic interventions, such as collaborative research on human rights, which can multiply in the future.” RWI will establish partnerships with both local and international stakeholders that will enable us to sustain results of our work in Armenia and scale it up in the future.

When Zalanova was in Armenia, the resilience of its citizens, despite the many turbulent developments in their country, inspired her:

“Another striking feature I observed was the intersection between the progressive and the traditional, which transcends in many layers of the Armenian society. I hope that the desire for change recently expressed by many Armenians in 2018 can make the most of their strengths while addressing some of the pressing human rights issues in their country, such as women’s rights.”

“Armenia’s highly polarised society needs reforms. It also needs institutions that are depersonalised, legitimate, and inclusive. To make this a reality, human rights principles should be included in the reform design and implementation, discussed by a wide range of stakeholders, and more integrated in educational and research activities – as these help shape opinions of influential parts of Armenian society and future implementers of the reforms. Our aim is to contribute to these efforts.”
Zuzana Zalanova, Director of the Europe Office

In 2021, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute’s Programme activities will focus on three directions:

  • Firstly, providing expertise to Armenia’s Ministry of Justice to support implementation of the country’s National Human Rights Action Plan. This concerns addressing torture by law enforcement officials, protection of persons engaged in human rights activities, children’s rights and other topics.
  • Secondly, helping develop clinical legal education initiatives at the Yerevan State University and the American University of Armenia to contribute to legal aid provision — through engagement with vulnerable groups and integration of principles based on human rights and gender equality.
  • Finally, working with the local universities to support their human rights educational programmes. In addition to research on human rights based on collaboration of Armenian academics and representatives of civil society.
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