European Court to examine responsibility of Armenian authorities for death of two young conscripts in non-combat situation

28 August 2017

On 28 August 2017, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) requested the Armenian authorities account for the deaths of Robert Hovhannisyan and Andranik Sargsyan, who were killed at their military station in Nagorno-Karabakh. The applicants – who are the parents of the young Armenian military conscripts – are represented by EHRAC (based at Middlesex University) and the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, Vanadzor (in Armenia).

“This is one in a group of cases concerning violence and death in non-combat situations in the Armenian military: not only has the State failed to protect the servicemen’s lives during their term of service, but also the investigations following the incidents were ineffective. There has been no conclusion that sufficiently and plausibly explains the incidents, the reasons which led to the fatal outcome, or identifies and holds to account all those responsible.”

Vahe Grigoryan, EHRAC Legal Consultant

The treatment of low rank military service personnel – especially conscripts – and the high incidence of non-combat deaths remains a systemic problem in Armenia.

On 28 July 2010, Mr. Sargsyan was on duty with another serviceman, K.A., at an observation post. According to other servicemen, during an inspection, a group of officers found Mr. Sargsyan and K. A. asleep at the post. When the two servicemen returned from their duty, senior lieutenant V.T. shouted at Mr. Sargsyan, knocked him to the ground and kicked him. According to the investigation, K.A. then intervened, fatally shooting V.T., Mr Sargsyan, Mr. Hovhannisyan and two other servicemen, after which he killed himself. Despite the investigation into the incident finding that military service orders had been breached, no one was held responsible.  However, following an order from the Minister of Defence, a number of high-ranking officers were demoted and others transferred to the reserves.

The applicants (the parents of the deceased) argue before the European Court that the State failed to protect their sons’ lives during their military service, under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). They also complain that they had no access to an effective remedy and that the investigation into their sons’ death was inadequate (under Articles 2 and 13 ECHR) as:

  • the investigation established that all six men involved had varying levels of alcohol intoxication, yet failed to establish how and when the servicemen could have consumed alcohol on duty;
  • it found that the Senior Lieutenant could have had contact with the assault rifle or even shot it, but it did not address this issue further;
  • it also failed to establish why K.A. would have killed the other servicemen.

The applicants also questioned the lawfulness of K.A.’s conscription in the first place, as he had been convicted of several offences in the USA, as a result of which he should not have had access to weapons.[1] He had made his previous convictions known to the relevant military authorities, but was nevertheless drafted into the army.

The Armenian Government are due to respond to the applicants’ case in November 2017, after which the applicants will lodge their reply.

[1] The investigation found out that K.A. had moved to the United States in 1992, when he was three years old. His convictions included several counts of burglary, possession of illegal firearms and drugs, car theft and escape from a juvenile correctional facility. An American court had issued a restraining order against him, according to which he should not have had access to weapons. He was deported to Armenia in 2009. An internal inquiry as to the eligibility of K.A. for military service was carried out: he was recognised as subject to conscription and was drafted into the army. This decision was authorised by the Military Prosecutor.