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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.

On 5th February 2016 the European Union (EU) Delegation to Armenia and the Council of Europe launched a new joint project on “Long-term electoral assistance to the election-related stakeholders of Armenia”. The project is funded via a special EU-Council of Europe budget to support Eastern Partnership countries in 2015-2017.
With the project the EU and the Council of Europe will provide technical support to a wide range of Armenian institutions and people involved in organising the elections expected to be held in April 2017. As most electoral support projects, the activities include efforts enhance the transparency and effectiveness of the Central Election Commission and electoral commissions at other levels in line with international standards; to strengthen the capacity of domestic observation teams ; to increase the participation young Armenians who will be first- or second-time voters in the upcoming elections process and finally, but not least to increase the participation of women at all levels of the electoral process with particular attention to their role as voters and candidates.
ARS_3721The Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Piotr Świtalski, was very direct in his messages at the official launch of the project: ‘The international community, mainly through the observations of the OSCE/ODIHR, has frequently expressed deep concern about the electoral processes in Armenia. There is a strong need to restore confidence and trust in the legitimacy of elections in Armenia. Some people even say that, if Armenia misses the opportunity of the elections in 2017 that will be organised within the new constitutional framework to restore this trust, it will send a bad signal for the further development of Armenia. It is clear that the new Electoral Code will have major implications for the spring 2017 parliamentary elections and Armenia’s future under the new parliamentary system.. However; as a first step, we are looking to the authorities to ensure that the fraud allegations and complaints related the Constitutional Referendum are investigated. There are currently some talks between the EU and the government on possible support for electronic elections but no matter with which system Armenia may wish to proceed, safeguards for free and fair elections need to be strengthened – only installing technical equipment itself is not a guarantee. I believe that this project will strengthen Armenian electoral legislation and create a commitment among political parties to meet international standards and enhance the capacity of the Central Electoral Commission’s members and electoral bodies at all levels’.
ARS_3767Natalia Voutova, Head of the Council of Europe office in Yerevan, thanked the EU for funding the project and summarised its purpose: ‘In light of last year’s Referendum on the new Constitution and the adoption of many new laws, including a new Electoral Code,, it is ever more important to prepare the groundwork for the 2016 local elections and 2017 national elections. One of the objectives of the project is to empower first-time voters in the 2017 elections. According to statistics, there will be over 70,000 new Armenian voters and to encourage their participation, the project will empower them to become active stakeholders in their own and their country’s future. We are looking forward to working with all stakeholders and before closing I would like to share a few wise words shared by James Freeman Clarke: “A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation”.”The election support project activities will include bilateral and multilateral exchanges of national and international experience training of the Central Election Commission, the NGO network for election observation, women politicians, and journalists to increase effectiveness and maximise impact.
The project will run to June 2017 and EU has provided a total of €302,000.

An award ceremony for 23 participants of the mediator skills training was held on 9 October 2015, where they were presented with accreditation and foundation certificates. The training had been conducted in Armenia on 12-18 August 2015 by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR), a leading mediation training provider from the United Kingdom. The training was organised within the framework of the EU and CoE joint “Strengthening the independence, professionalism, and accountability of the justice system in Armenia” project.
ARS_1734David Avakian, Project Manager in the EU Delegation to Armenia, congratulated everyone on their achievement, as well as partners for the successful implementation of the training courses.
The Head of the Council of Europe (CoE) Office in Yerevan, Natalia Voutova, talked about mediation in Armenia judicial reforms: ‘The CoE believes that, with the introduction of court-annexed mediation, the functions and goals of the judiciary in providing easy access to justice and the speedy resolution of cases will be better met, and this will reduce the backlog of cases in Armenian courts. It is my pleasure to award certificates to all the participants. The CoE believes that the first 23 mediators certified by CEDR will have a valuable impact on the successful application of mediation in Armenia’.
Arsen Mkrtchyan, Armenian Deputy Minister of Justice, also attended the event and stressed the importance the mediators would play: ‘The Ministry of Justice welcomes this initiative. I hope we will cooperate with all of you mediators in the future. With the support of EU, CoE, and CEDR you have participated in very important training courses and I am sure that it will have a positive impact on your career’.
The training provided Armenian mediators with the necessary knowledge and skills for effective mediation. It laid the foundation for understanding the theory and practice of mediation in more detail, thus, supporting participants’ continuous improvement as mediators.

The EU and the Council of Europe (CoE) have agreed to implement targeted cooperation activities in Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries (Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine). The idea is to bring them closer to the European standards of human rights, democracy and rule of law. From 2015-2017 projects will be implemented under the programmatic cooperation framework (PCF). Within the framework of this cooperation, 4 country-specific projects for Armenia have started, all co-financed by the European Union. Press conference on the details of the cooperation framework took place on 1 October 2015.
IMG_7349The Head of Cooperation of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Hoa-Binh Adjemian, underlined the EU’s commitment to supporting Armenia in justice, human rights, and other areas: ‘The EU stands by Armenian citizens by improving society and their livelihoods. We are talking about very important projects in the regional framework – there are so many fields on which we are working together with the CoE, and 4 in particular in Armenia. To have a successful project you need to have financial and technical support, and this is what we are providing. On the other hand, for successful results we need to have an active civil society. This is why the EU always stands next to Armenian civil society organisations’.
The Head of the CoE Office in Yerevan, Natalia Voutova, opened the press conference by describing the details of the cooperation framework: ‘The main objectives of our cooperation with the EU are to bring all EaP countries closer to European standards. The implementation priorities of the projects in each country are specific and are based on action plans. For the CoE, priorities are based on the CoE action plan for Armenia which will run until 2017. In this context, the CoE is the implementing organisation of the programmatic cooperation framework. We have started all four projects in Armenia, and they are coordinated in close cooperation with the Armenian government, authorities and stakeholders’.
Paruyr Hovhannisyan, Head of the European Department of the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, mentioned that democracy, human rights, and rule of law are values Armenia shares with the EU and the CoE. He went on to stress that progress on achieving these aims would only happen with good cooperation between partners.
The country-specific projects for Armenia that are being implemented are:
• 1. Strengthening healthcare and human rights protection in prisons in Armenia
This project will assess the needs of prison healthcare in Armenia, revise legislation, procure medical equipment for 11 healthcare units, and provide training on medical ethics and health promotion. The project started in March 2015 and will end in February 2017. The overall budget is €900,000.
• 2. Supporting criminal justice reform and combating ill-treatment and impunity in Armenia
This project will strengthen institutional mechanisms, legislation, and train prosecutors and investigators to combat ill-treatment and impunity in the criminal justice system. The project will be implemented between July 2015 to July 2017. The overall budget is €500,000.
• 3. Strengthening integrity and combating corruption in higher education in Armenia
This project will promote legal mechanisms for ensuring integrity and fighting corruption, as well as provide training courses, and introduce model codes of ethics for educators and students. The project timeframe is January 2015 to December 2016. The overall budget is €400,000.
• 4. Long-term electoral assistance to the election related stakeholders of Armenia:
The project aims to improve legislation, train electoral body staff and judges, and strengthen mechanisms for settling electoral disputes. The project started in January 2015 and will run to December 2017. The overall budget is €95,000.
Arkadi Sytine, PCF coordinator, made a presentation about the ongoing projects and described all of the details of the framework.

The website of the Justice Academy was launched on 17 September 2015. Its design and development was done within the framework of the joint European Union and Council of Europe’s “Strengthening the independence, professionalism and accountability of the justice system in Armenia” project. The project provides legislative assistance and institutional and capacity-building support to the Ministry of Justice, judicial institutions, Justice Academy and School of Advocates for two years until May 2016. Development of the website for the Justice Academy is one of the sub-components of the project.
ARS_2827David Avakian, Project Manager from the EU Delegation to Armenia, congratulated everyone with the successful implementation of the website.
During the website launch, the Head of the Council of Europe (CoE) Office in Yerevan, Natalia Voutova, said: ‘The website that we are launching today is part of our “Strengthening the independence, professionalism and accountability of the justice system in Armenia” project. The CoE has a long history of cooperation with the Armenian Ministry of Justice and the Justice Academy, and I am very glad that today we are taking a step forward in reinforcing this training institution in Armenia that trains future judges, prosecutors and investigators. We all know how important having a website in 21st century is, especially a website that is devoted to the initial and continuous training of professionals’.
Ruben Melikyan, Rector of the Academy of Justice, spoke about the importance of the new website for the academy: ‘Today is really a very special day for the Academy of Justice, beause from now on we can proudly write the website address on our business cards. With our website we are becoming more represented in the virtual world, which is very important for several reasons: we will become more visible for our partners and our work will be more accessible. However, the most important thing is that we will be more transparent to the public. We promise that our website will be open to everybody’.
The newly developed website will provide the following opportunities to its users and beneficiaries:
• Greater accessibility;
• Greater possibilities for enhancing communications between judges and prosecutors;
• The Justice Academy online platform for e-courses
Check out the new website on www.justiceacademy.am.

 

The launch ceremony of the “Strengthening integrity and combating corruption in higher education in Armenia” project took place on 27 May 2015. The budget of the project is €400,000, provided by the EU under the EU – Council of Europe’s partnership cooperation framework in Eastern Partnership countries for 2015-2017.
The project is aimed at strengthening and combating corruption in higher education institutions by supporting the effective implementation of the Anti-corruption Action Plan 2015-2018 of the Republic of Armenia. The project’s objective is to support the development of prevention and integrity mechanisms for practicing professionals and to increase good governance in the field of higher education in the country.
ARS_0783After the aims of the project were presented, the Head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Traian Hristea, had his welcome speech. ‘The launch of this project comes right after the European Higher Education Area Ministerial conference, which took place in Yerevan two weeks ago, and also after the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga. The summit has confirmed the EU’s commitment to supporting Armenia in many areas; education is one of them. This project supports the efficiency of education in the country, and I hope it will bring a brighter future to future generations. Reducing corruption, not only in higher education but also in many other spheres in the country, is a difficult and long journey; let me reassure you that the EU will stand side by side and will always offer support’.
ARS_0798The Armenian government has declared its intention to combat corruption. A new anti-corruption strategy was developed in 2014, concentrating on public health, education, and the police. Higher education has been singled out in this project, as corruption risks are generally more substantial in this part of the education system. The project will focus on a systematic approach and will cover 26 state-owned higher education institutions. The Armenian Deputy Minister of Education and Science, Karine Harutyunyan, talked about Armenia’s position in corruption reports, mentioning that education was reported to accumulate a lot of corruption but that there had been positive changes in recent years.
It is anticipated that the project will increase the awareness of corruption risks, and will develop guidelines and recommendations, including legislative changes and code of ethics for enhancing integrity among major higher education stakeholders.