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Arman Tatoyan: It is our right to live in violence-free societies

There are situations when complaints and grievances addressed to the Ombudsperson of Armenia are evidently of crucial importance for human life. This is especially true for women and children, for whom issues of vital importance often depend on the protection of their rights.

In such a case, the aunt of a 20-year-old woman reached out to us and informed us that her brother's daughter was detained in a psychiatric hospital and was unreasonably not allowed to return home. This was very alarming for us and we opened an investigation and requested to visit that psychiatric institution immediately. The aunt informed us that she had visited the psychiatric institution several times before, but they had demanded that the young woman’s parents come to the hospital themselves and claimed there were no grounds to release her. The parents, according to the aunt, were not in the Republic of Armenia at the time.

Our visit and the investigation we conducted through short conversations revealed a situation that could have been fateful for that young woman because of the careless and negligent work of state bodies and officials. We found out that the 20-year-old woman had been regularly abused by her husband, who had beaten and psychologically abused her, and had also been psychologically abused by other family members. This abuse led her to the decision to end her own life. She went to one of the bridges in Yerevan with the intention to jump. At the last moment, she changed her mind and called the police. The police arrived at the location and took her to the police station. The investigator admitted the young woman at the police station and upon being informed that she needs psychological support because she is in a depressed state, for an unknown reason, called the ambulance service. The ambulance service arrived at the police station and, again for an unknown reason, took the girl to a psychiatric hospital.

At the psychiatric hospital, she was forced to sign a document. Later we found out that the document was an agreement to apply treatment, and was signed taking advantage of the young woman’s distressed, depressed state. The woman signed the document and the next day, of course, started to realize what is happening to her, the condition she is in, and demanded to be released. She demanded it in written form, even demanded it verbally, but the psychiatric hospital kept refusing to release her. Of course, it was obvious that there were no more legal grounds to keep the woman admitted, because she was an adult, she was functional, and therefore there was no reason to apply involuntary treatment to her. Nevertheless, even in the absence of such an agreement, the hospital staff had already started injecting her with psychiatric drugs.

Moreover, let me tell you that the young woman’s did not end here. We demanded her release and she was able to leave the psychiatric institution. But after that the pressures in her family against her doubled. They believed that she was a mentally unhealthy person, excuse me for using this word, a "crazy person,”, and she was stigmatized even more.

Following that, the young woman asked us for a special document to prove that she did not really have a psychiatric illness, or more exactly, that her transfer to the psychiatric institution was not caused by a mental disorder, but rather that she was kept there illegally. Of course, we provided that document to her within our competence, but again the issue was still not over.

The police officer who had been in charge of supporting the woman continued calling her, and began to suggest that they meet, or in other words, he begun flirting with her. Of course, this was illegal because the girl was scared, she reached us to us with this issue as well, and we promptly intervened.

After working on this case, we concluded that the problems we encountered have both legislative and practical significance.

In this specific case, it was obvious that the young woman found herself in this situation and was doubly victimized because, first of all, we do not have legislation in this area that can prevent that.

In addition, our officials, employees of the relevant state institutions are not sufficiently competent. There is no cooperation between institutions, this is also important. For example, the question arose as to why the police officer called an ambulance, and why the ambulance service took the young woman to the psychiatric hospital, and why the psychiatric hospital immediately, allow me to say, extorted that agreement from her without clarifying the possible need for, for example, psychological or material support. Maybe the woman had children, minor children left without parental care. Instead, a treatment was applied to her immediately at a psychiatric hospital. I highlight again that although in legal terms they did make her give her consent, in reality it appeared that consent was not given, and it turned out that instead of protecting her rights, her rights were further violated, illegally depriving her of liberty and condemning her to double victimization. without even mentioning the unscrupulous actions of the police officers afterwards.

Of course, as a result of all this, we submitted solicitations to initiate a criminal case. Based on our solicitation, the Healthcare and Labor Inspectorate discovered numerous violations, and based on that, some recommendations were issued, and now we are constantly fighting against it. But all this must be another important lesson for everyone to understand, to realize that we must have clear legislative regulations in this area.

There are numerous stereotypes, numerous misconceptions around the issues of domestic violence prevention and the protection of women's rights. Therefore, we must have at least two important conditions: adequate legislation and highly qualified specialists. By saying legislation I mean not only the laws adopted by the National Assembly, but also various by-laws like orders, government decisions, etc. Based on our experience and our studies, today the laws are variegated and numerous, and there are also contradictions between them. Therefore, from the point of view of practical application, they constantly cause problems.

The same goes for professional skills. If the specialist does not possess sufficient professional skills, of course he or she cannot apply the law. Moreover, given the conditions of imperfect legislation, the application can lead to bigger problems. And as you can see, these issues can even be fatal.

In addition, it is not enough for each state body to carry out its work independently. They must cooperate with each other. This is also a problem, the lack of cooperation between them. For example, in the case I just presented, at least three government agencies, three services, working independently of each other, contributed to human rights violations that could have been fatal - the police, the ambulance service and, of course, the psychiatric institution.

It is very important to keep in mind that in terms of protecting the rights of persons who experienced domestic violence, particularly the rights of women, an aggressive human rights work done by the state is needed. In other words, the state should not sit and wait to see whether or not a person complains or seeks to protect their rights by submitting a case. The state has to act pro-actively, because it has a positive obligation, and must extend it to the entire state apparatus. Cooperation with civil society is also important. Today, unfortunately, the cooperation between the state and the civil society does not work effectively in terms of communication.

Therefore, we must improve the legislation of the Republic of Armenia and we must continuously improve the professional abilities of employees in all our state bodies, who may in any way have to relate to a woman, a child or a victim of domestic violence in general.

We must also keep in mind an extremely important point. In all the situations where we have violence, where there is continuous violence against women and children, and the state does not take adequate preventive measures, then we will not be able to fight it effectively, and moreover, we will have severe challenges in protecting family values as well.

I want to emphasize that protecting women's rights and preventing domestic violence can not be in any way opposed to the protection of family values. Family is of greatest importance to me as the Ombusperson of the Republic of Armenia. Family is the central unit of our society. Our country and the strength of our society are built on the basis of the family unit. But at the same time, if we have domestic violence, we can never have a healthy society.

It is difficult, I think it is impossible, to find a better place for a child's upbringing and education than the family, even in the best institution. As a result of violence against women, for example, a child may end up in an institution, may remain orphaned, without parental care. In a situation where family values are disrupted, it is impossible to imagine a strong family.

Therefore, if we want to have a strong family, a healthy society and a powerful state, we must stop violence, we must stop humiliating women or children. A strong man never abuses or humiliates. A person is strong when he or she lives in a healthy society, in a strong and violence-free state.

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The video was prepared in the framework of the “EU 4 Gender Equality: Together against gender stereotypes and gender-based violence" programme, funded by the European Union, implemented jointly by UN Women and UNFPA.