As part of a group of a dozen Armenian civil society organizations, RSC Director Richard Giragosian met on 16 March with a visiting delegation from the European Commission and the Human Rights Strategy and Policy Implementation Division of the EU’s European External Action Service (EEAS).

In the first meeting, with Mathieu Bousquet, the Head of Unit for Neighbourhood East (DG NEAR) of the European Commission, Severin Strohal, the Armenia Desk Officer for the DG, and several staff members of the EU Delegation to Armenia, participants discussed the broader set of issues related to the current course of Armenia-EU relations, focusing on the three main areas of EU assistance to Armenia: (1) private sector development, (2) public administration reform, and (3) justice sector reform.

During a discussion of the role of civil society in Armenia and as stakeholder in the future of Armenia-EU relations, Giragosian stressed two main points. First, he noted the imperative for “monitoring and measuring” the performance of the Armenian government in fulfilling expectations for reforms and called for the “formulation of a set of clear, coherent and consistent metrics and benchmarks necessary for ensuring greater accountability on the part of the Armenian government.” He then added that this need for better “monitoring and measuring” of reform was matched by a need for “conditionality,” in order to provide the EU with a greater degree of leverage and incentive to improve the implementation of reforms promised by the Armenian side.

Giragosian’s second point was the “need for greater engagement by civil society in the public policy process,” which he explained was “a challenge for the government, in order to ensure a greater role for independent analysis and civil society expertise, and for the civil society organizations themselves, which must commit to a more constructive policy of working with state structures and bodies in pursuit of better public policy.”

The second meeting was with Elisabeth Tison, the head of the Human Rights Strategy and Policy Implementation Division and Elisabeth Edland, Policy officer of the Human Rights Strategy and Policy Implementation Division of the EU European External Action Service (EEAS). This meeting addressed human rights-related issues in the context of the upcoming EU-Armenia Human Rights Dialogue.

During this discussion of human rights issues in Armenia, Giragosian was more critical of the Armenian government and, in particular, strongly criticized a “creeping crackdown” on civil liberties in the country, especially by the Armenian police. Arguing that “violations of human rights and civil liberties are no longer a set of isolated incidents,” but rather, now “constitute a clear pattern or trend of moves aimed at restricting civil rights, intimidating civic activism and punishing dissent.” He specifically cited a documented “record of abuse by the police in the over-use and misapplication of pre-trial detention,” which he argued was “used a coercive method aimed at intimidating detained activists.” He also warned of the dangerous return of the Soviet-era practice of using “psychiatric pressure on detainees.”

Giragosian further pointed out a “well-established record of assaults and abuse by the police targeting journalists,” noting that “in Armenia, journalism has now become one of the most dangerous professions.”