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Every year, the EU Delegation to Armenia, the US embassy, the OSCE, Council of Europe and the UN Armenia offices in Yerevan, honour individuals working to promote human rights, accountable governance, the rule of law, local government reform, women’s rights, inclusion and free speech in Armenia at the Universal Rights Awards ceremony. The ceremony has taken place annually since 2012, and is the first initiative of the international community to highlight the contributions of Armenia’s civil and political rights activists, government officials, media and civil society representatives to the promotion of human rights.
ARS_0167The Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Świtalski, awarded Lori District Court Judge Narine Hovakimyan with the new “Promoting Justice for All” award in recognition of her principled decisions. These decisions have demonstrated to citizens that the rights guaranteed by their Constitution are upheld in real life. ‘I am very honoured today because I am introducing a new category – an award which promotes justice for all. Justice is not just a pillar of government, it is precondition for everything. There is no democracy, no human rights protection, no fair business, and no harmonious society without independent, fair and efficient justice. For many years the EU has supported the judiciary in Armenia; we are happy that many positive changes have been made, the independence of the judiciary must still be promoted. Therefore, today we are honouring Narine Hovakimyan, a judge from Lori, for her courage and efforts for justice in Armenia,’ stated the Ambassador.
The Ambassador of the US to Armenia, Richard Mills, presented the “Media Excellence” award to the “Photolure” photo agency in recognition of its outstanding professionalism and commitment to covering the “Electric Yerevan” public protests in 2015. The Ambassador of the UK and Northern Ireland, Judith Farnworth, gave the “Freedom Defender” award to the “Citizen Observer” initiative for its efforts pursuing free and fair elections and the rule of law. The UN Resident Coordinator ad interim, Cristoph Biewirth, presented the “Government Reformer” award to Vache Terteryan, the Armenian First Deputy Minister of Territorial Administration and Development, for his commitment to putting in force the Law on Alternative Service and applying new approaches and reforms to local self-governance. The Head of the Council of Europe office in Yerevan, Natalia Voutova, handed over the “Promoting Inclusion” award to Zaruhi Batoyan for her commitment to creating equal opportunities for people with disabilities and building a more inclusive society. Ambassador Argo Avakov, the Head of the OSCE office in Yerevan, presented the “Woman of Courage” award to Jemma Hasratyan in recognition of her brave, long-term advocacy for equal rights and equal opportunities for women, and gender equality.

An annual anti-corruption award ceremony took place dedicated to International Anti-Corruption Day. Awards in three nominations were presented: citizen of the year, representatives of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), and mass media. High-ranking officials from the Armenian government and the EU Delegation to Armenia attended the ceremony, which had been organised within the framework of the EU-funded “Multi-faceted Anti-corruption Promotion” project. The President of the Armenian Young Lawyers Association (AYLA), Karen Zadoyan, provided the backdrop to the EU-funded project, which is aimed at increasing the role of the CSOs in promoting and implementing anti-corruption reforms.
10457481_766367060083892_4414473023282113492_nThe Deputy Minister of Justice, Suren Krmoyan, highlighted the significance of anti-corruption campaigns: ‘Corruption is a global challenge for society: in 2004 it was acknowledged as a threat against humanity which impedes fundamental human rights. The EU has initiated numerous projects in cooperation with local authorities and international organisations intended to provide corresponding support’.
Deputy Head of the Cooperation Section of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Jose-Maria Medina Navarro, talked about fruitful cooperation between Armenia and the EU: ‘The European Union is a key partner for Armenia, and our areas of cooperation are very large. About two thirds of the total financial support is provided through budget support programmes. Corruption is a threat to humanity as it allocates existing funds unevenly, damages trust in the government, and negatively affects the sustainability of the justice system’. He added that the European Union would continue to offer support in these areas and expressed hope that Armenian side was determined to continue cooperation.
10849938_766367093417222_3531838365367122196_n Mr Krmoyan granted the “Citizen of the Year” award to Hratch Avetisyan, who had been struggling against corruption in the social security sector. Navarro awarded a prize to the “ArmComedy” team for the best coverage of corruption-related issues. The award for best CSO representatives went to the Armenian Chamber of Advocates for successfully protecting professional rights.
The “Multi-Faceted Anti-Corruption Promotion” project contributes to deepening existing opportunities for anti-corruption activities. Small grants are given to raise the effectiveness of public monitoring and implement appropriate monitoring and investigative activities. The three-year project is funded by the European Union and implemented by AYLA with a total budget of €650,000.

The “Golden Key and Rusty Lock” awards took place in Yerevan on 26 September dedicated to International Right to Know Day. The event was organised by the Armenian NGO “Freedom of Information Centre” in cooperation with the Armenian Young Lawyers Association, and was funded by the European Union within the scope of the “Multi-faceted Anti-corruption Promotion” project.

Prime Minister of Armenia Hovik Abrahamyan spoke on the Armenian government’s dedication to freedom of information: ‘The Armenian government is constantly seeking ways out to raise the efficiency of its administrative systems. The Open Government Partnership, which has entered its second stage, is a vivid example of our activity in this area. This project gives an opportunity to establish institutions that will promote citizen’s participation in decision making and policy development. Freedom of information in our country is ensured by law, and we will implement consistent efforts so that administrative transparency can be achieved’.

The Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Traian Hristea, focused his comments on corruption: ‘Corruption within the public sector continues to be a large Armenian, indeed a global, challenge. According to recent reports, the world’s poorest countries are deprived of at least $1 trillion each year as a result of the siphoning of cash through money laundering, tax evasion and embezzlement. This is cash that could be spent to enhance citizens’ living standards and provide better and cheaper services and goods’. He added that, in recent years, the political leadership in Armenia had regularly expressed its readiness to fight corruption in public statements, various programmes and strategic documents, as well as through legal reform. On behalf of the European Union he expressed the hope that both an independent oversight system and new anti-corruption strategy would be established in Armenia.

An independent jury awarded institutions noted for transparency and significant anti-corruption activities over the last year with “Golden Key” prizes. Winners included the official website of the Armenian Police (the best official website in terms of access to information), Public Radio of Armenia and yerkir.am portal (contribution to freedom of information in the media). Additionally, the jury awarded two “Rusty Locks” to opaque institutions with poor transparency records: the State Economic University of Armenia (for the most ridiculous official answer) and the State Committee of Real Estate Cadastre of Armenia (the institution that provided the tardiest responses to citizens).

The “Multi-Faceted Anti-Corruption Promotion” project is funded by the EU with a budget of €650,000. It is aimed at building the capacity of civil society organisations to engage in monitoring and watchdog activities, increase the effectiveness of monitoring of anti-corruption reforms, and strengthen anti-corruption institutional mechanisms. As an overall objective the project planners intend to increase the role of CSOs in promoting anti-corruption reforms.