First comprehensive law on national minorities to make their voices more heard in Armenia
YEREVAN, MARCH 13, ARMENPRESS. A separate comprehensive draft law on national minorities has been developed and presented to the public in Armenia.
Vigen Kocharyan – deputy minister of justice, gave an interview to ARMENPRESS talking about the draft law which is now at the public discussion stage.
-Mr. Kocharyan, since the declaration of independence, different laws and legal acts contained provisions relating to national minorities, but as of now we didn’t have a separate national law on the protection of minorities. What is this law directed for?
-Since the declaration of independence we really didn’t have such comprehensive legislative regulations in the field of the protection of national minorities. Instead of this we had some provisions in different legislative acts. For some times such solutions could be considered acceptable as they mainly were in line with the needs existing in the field. According to the new Constitution, the situation changed after 2015, there was a task to make the legislative regulations more coordinated and defined in a single legislative act. Given this Constitutional demand a necessity to prepare this legislative draft emerged aimed at solving these issues. In particular, it’s necessary to clearly define the circle of people belonging to national minorities and their rights, as well as the issues of public authorities in this field. There are also some problems which wait for coordinated legislative solutions. Our main goal is to make the voices of national minorities more heard and their rights more protected.
-Will it be clarified who are the national minorities and the ethnic groups? What will be the criteria for defining the national minorities?
-There was also a necessity to define the circle of people whom we call as belonging to the national minorities. By the adoption of the Law on National Minorities we also expect to specify the circle of people, as well as the “national minority” concept. As for now our legislation hasn’t clearly defined it yet, and it’s unclear who are these people in Armenia. The law touches upon the group formed historically in Armenia with a unique national or ethnic identity. This approach is fully in accordance with that criteria. Today the national minorities in Armenia are Assyrians, Belarusians, Yazidis, Germans, Poles, Jews, Greeks, Russians, Georgians, Ukrainians and Kurds. While determining the circle of the national minorities, the number of their members has not been taken into account as the exercise of the rights of the people must not be linked with their number. We have adopted a very inclusive approach so that every national group, which historically lives in Armenia, will be recognized and represented.
But the legal status of people with other ethnic identity differs from the privileges of the members of national minorities. The general mechanism of human rights protection should extend to such persons without any discrimination.
-An agency dealing with and discussing the issues of national minorities will be established. Who will be included in this agency and what powers will they have?
-It’s also important to clarify the mechanism of their participation in the decision-making process relating to the national minorities. This agency should deal with these issues. It operates now, but its status is uncertain, and it is defined by sub-legislative acts. This structure is going to have a status of an agency as prescribed by law. All national minorities without any exception and discrimination will be included in this agency. It serves as a unique platform for presenting the issues concerning the national minorities to different power circles. And it defines an obligation for the state structures to properly react to their requests. The main goal is to create a mechanism for the state structures to effectively cooperate with the national minorities so that their rights and interests will be taken into account in the decisions as much as possible.
-At the moment the draft is at the public discussion stage, and some representatives of national minorities expressed their concern with an open letter according to which the transition to the parliamentary system reduces the status of the Council of national minorities. Is there such danger and did you meet with representatives of national minorities during the public discussion stage of the draft law? If yes, what opinions and concerns did they voice?
-We have already met with the Council coordinating the activity of national-cultural organizations of the national minorities. An active discussion was also held at the e-draft platform. The reaction, overall, was positive, there are few proposals and notifications. The main focus is on the status, formation and activities of the Council. Yes, the proposed changes are also linked with the change in governance system in our country, but they are not directed for reducing the status of that structure. Quite the contrary, it is proposed to create a state structure which will provide new rights and opportunities for Armenia’s national minorities. We are open to discussions as the goal is to have a legislative regulation proposing effective solutions and complying with the international standards of this field.
Interview by Anna Grigoryan
Full version of the interview is available in Armenia.
English –translator/editor: Aneta Harutyunyan