Corruption in the State System is one of the Main Problems in Armenia: The US Department of State published the Country Report on Human Rights Practices

The US Department of State published the Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2015, which reflects the existing problems in the field of human rights protection around the world.

The Executive Summary of the section referring to the RA states Armenia’s Constitution provides for a republic with an elected head of state and a unicameral legislature, the National Assembly. The Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) held a majority of seats in the National Assembly, and with President Serzh Sargsyan as leader, continued to dominate the country’s political scene.

The country held a presidential election in 2013 and legislative elections in 2012. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described the presidential election as well administered but with shortcomings, including an uneven playing field, some serious election-day violations, and concerns about the integrity of the electoral process. Similar flaws marred the 2012 National Assembly elections. Civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces.

The most significant human rights problems during the year were officials’ use of government resources to maintain the dominance of the ruling RPA, use of economic and political power by the country’s elite to enrich supporters and to corrupt the law enforcement and judicial systems, and limited judicial independence.

During the December 6 constitutional referendum, local and international observers, members of civil society, and journalists reported witnessing numerous types of electoral violations, including use of administrative resources, multiple voting, ballot-box stuffing, and the intimidation of commission members and observers by officials. As of December 18, the Republic of Armenia Investigative Committee (RAIC) had initiated 34 criminal cases stemming from the referendum.

Other reported problems and abuses included suspicious deaths in the military under noncombat conditions and continued bullying and mistreatment of conscripts by officers and fellow soldiers without accountability.

The media lacked diversity of political opinion, and most outlets reflected government views. Self-censorship was a problem. There were credible reports that police targeted journalists at citizens’ protests. Authorities’ respect for freedom of assembly was uneven. The roles of senior officials in the governance of prominent academic institutions and the politicization of student activities inhibited academic freedom. Authorities restricted freedom to participate in the political process and political pluralism. Government restrictions affected some minority religious groups, and members of religious minorities suffered from societal discrimination. Domestic violence remained a problem. A significant imbalance in the birth ratio of boys to girls pointed to gender-biased sex selection. Human trafficking was a problem. Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in almost all areas of life. Officials, including police and military and prison authorities, subjected sexual minorities persons to abuse and discrimination with impunity; they also experienced societal violence and discrimination. Society stigmatized persons with HIV/AIDS. The government limited workers’ rights and weakly enforced labor laws.

Although the government took some steps to punish officials in the security forces and elsewhere for human rights abuses, officials often continued to commit abuses with impunity. Authorities did not hold anyone accountable for the 10 deaths that occurred following postelection clashes in 2008.

Corruption in Government

A separate section of the report is on corruption and lack of transparency in Government:

“The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous allegations of government corruption.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report for 2014-15, corruption was viewed as the most problematic factor for doing business in the country.

Although the constitution prohibits individuals engaged in entrepreneurial activity from holding public office, company executives and oligarchs continued to occupy seats in the National Assembly, and various government officials continued to use their offices to promote their private business interests. In the view of many observers, oligarchs linked to the government or holding government posts monopolized the economy. According to civic groups working to address corruption, authorities continued to ignore media and other reports implicating government officials in corrupt practices. Many public officials disclosed large sums of unexplained income and assets as required by ethics rules, but authorities failed to invoke anticorruption laws or investigate such declarations.

There were numerous reports of systemic government corruption in urban maintenance, construction, public administration, the judiciary, state procurement and auctions, health care, taxation, law enforcement bodies, and military personnel. There were reports of embezzlement of state funds, involvement of government officials in questionable business activities, and tax privileges for government-linked companies.

Following the May announcement of a hike in electricity rates by Electric Networks of Armenia (ENA), authorities published ENA’s financial information on its website. This report and numerous media reports shed light on ENA’s spending practices, which included the purchase and rental of lavish houses, apartments, and cars for official use, large donations to a state-run education foundation, and donations toward the construction of a church sponsored by the prime minister.

Following public protests in June, the president ordered an external audit of ENA, which was underway as of September, and announced the government would subsidize the difference between the old and new rates for small households until the audit results were available. On September 17, the government decided to review the proposed sale of ENA to a company that was registered offshore and owned by a wealthy Russian-Armenian businessman.

The prosecutor general was responsible for prosecuting corruption, while the newly established RAIC was responsible for investigating corruption. According to widespread reports, neither the RAIC nor police operated effectively or independently, and neither had sufficient resources. A former prosecutor general was appointed as the head of the RAIC, which led members of civil society to question the organization’s independence.”

The report also refers to the activities of the Ethics Commission for High-Ranking Officials. “The law requires high-ranking public officials and their families to file annual asset declarations. There were administrative penalties for noncompliance or filing false declarations, but the Ethics Commission for High-Ranking Officials, which is responsible for collecting and monitoring the filing of declarations, lacked authority to verify their accuracy or origins of the declared income or to penalize officials for false declarations. During the year several judges, as well as the prosecutor general and other officials, declared gifts of thousands of dollars as part of their income, but no state body investigated the origins of the gifts.”

It is also mentioned that while the law provides for public access to government information, some government bodies and officials were reluctant to grant it.