Death threats, threats of rape and violence, these are some of the intimidations that Lara Aharonian, co-director of Women Resource Centre in Armenia just recently received from hate groups. In addition, her picture has been posted online along with calls and encouragement for violence on social media.
Aharonian’s experience is shared by many others. Over the last few months, Armenian human rights activists have been subject to increased pressure, numerous calls to violence, including death threats and threats of rape. This is specially the case for activists working toward protecting human rights of vulnerable groups in Armenia, such as women and the LGBTI-community.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee asks that Armenian authorities investigate these acts promptly and efficiently and speak up against persecution of women human rights defenders.
“Although the Velvet revolution represents a shift towards democratic principles, the Armenian government has a long way to go to prevent discrimination, harassment and threats against vulnerable groups, such as women human rights defenders, sexual and gender minorities, and others”, says Ana Pashalishvili Adviser on Armenia at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
The January 29 of 2019 Report of the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights confirms that women in Armenia suffer from major inequalities and domestic violence and encourages the Armenian authorities to ensure effective application of laws preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
Seen as a threat to family values
The Women Resource Centre is a non-governmental organisation working to ensure safe environment for women and respond to sexual violence based in Armenia. They were already attacked back in 2013 due to their work on issues of gender equality in Armenia.
According to another co-director, Gohar Shahnazaryan, the hate groups believe women rights work threatens Armenian family values.
“Some hate groups see the work to prevent violence against women, and to secure sexual and reproductive rights, as a threat to the Armenian family values. Hate groups therefore try to manipulate and frame the work for women’s- and LGBT-rights as a way to destroy Armenian families. Traditional family values are strong in the Armenian national identity”, says Shahnazaryan.
A long way to go
Lara’s case is unfortunately only one example out of a number of intimidations against human rights defenders working to strengthen the rights of women and LGBTI people. In August 2018, nine gay-rights activists were attacked by 30 people in Armenia’s Syunik region.
In November 2018, humanitarian NGO “New Generation” had to cancel the 11th International LGBT Christian Forum event devoted to peace, respect and love they were assisting to organise in Yerevan, because of the threats made by hate groups propaganda. Read more on “No revolution for LGBTI in Armenia”.
Unfortunately, the Armenian authorities did not take efficient actions in response to these threats.
“We have seen a year of progress in many ways in Armenia this year, but we have also seen a year where the new authorities have done little to advance the rights of women, LGBTI, religious minorities and others, while groups and individuals being ready to use violence as means to keep those who defend these groups silent. Adequate response in the case of Lara Aharonian would give an indication that the authorities are ready to commit to their international human rights obligations”, says Pashalishvili.