February 4, 2014
Dear Mr Hovhannissyan
Thank you very much for your and the other signatories letter dated January 16 commenting on the Statement on Armenian Civil Society Organizations adopted by the Civil Society Forum meeting in Stockholm on November 30 2012. The Steering Committee of the CSF which regards dialogue as its method of resolving differences welcomes comment. Thank you also for offering to send an English language version of the “Strategic Concept of the Development of Civil Society in the Republic of Armenia” to the Steering Committee for our consideration.
I hope that this exchange might initiate a fruitful and constructive exchange of opinions between the RA Public Council and the CSF represented by our National Platform in Armenia which will lead to strengthening of a vibrant and independent civil society in Armenia and entrench democracy in your country.
However it is the view of our colleagues in Armenia that the ‘Strategic Concept’ as it stands at present threatens to undermine “the idea of freedom of association, alienating independent watchdog associations, silencing critical voices and substituting broader and genuine public participation with imitated democracy”. This is the sentiment which was supported by the Forum in Stockholm after a presentation by our colleagues of the situation in Armenia. The CSF Statement requires a serious response from Armenian authorities, as well as the Public Council, which drafted the concept.
Sadly the letter signed by you and your colleagues fails to do this and in particular to address the question which is central to the debate: will the “Strategic Concept” and the projected “Law on the Public Council of the Republic of Armenia” enhance or limit the independence of non-governmental organizations?
Instead your letter merely refers to the development of councils attached to various government ministries which would improve communications between them and civil society as well as the importance of the projected support fund for civil society and of cutting red tape for charitable organizations. It also suggests that the model which the Strategic Concept puts forward of ‘partnership (mutual control and interconnection)’ will, in your view, serve the development of independent civil society in Armenia. It is in this last point where I think we differ fundamentally and where the threat for the development of an independent civil society in Armenia lies.
Given that it is the view of our colleagues in Armenia that the government of Armenia has aimed in recent years to increase its control over the civil society sector and that the government has ‘never adopted any measure to improve the climate for financial sustainability of CSOs and to remove the discrepancies of the legislation that limits the legal standing of CSOs, it is good that they have raised the alarm by proposing the resolution which was adopted in Stockholm.
Acting chair, Steering Committee
Civil Society Forum