Professor Lyal S. Sunga Invited to Conduct Workshop in Armenia

In early June 2023, Armenia’s Academy of Justice and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, invited Professor Lyal S. Sunga to travel to Yerevan and Dilijan in Armenia – a former Soviet Socialist Republic – to conduct a workshop for a number of judges from all levels of the Armenian criminal courts.

Working with Judge Arsen Nikoghosyan, Professor Sunga’s lectures focused on the protection of human rights in pre-trial criminal proceedings. Human rights, in particular, the rights to liberty and personal security, the right not to be arbitrarily detained, and the right not to suffer torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, can be seriously jeopardized right from the moment of arrest. The right to remain silent, the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the right to counsel, the right to mount an adequate defense, the right to habeas corpus (i.e. the right to have the legality of detention promptly reviewed by a competent judicial authority), the right to be informed promptly of any charges and in a language understood by the criminal suspect, and the right to be brought to trial within a reasonable time, all figure as part of the normative package to which all human beings are entitled by virtue of international human rights law. The workshop lectures and simulation exercises were tailored to apply to Armenia’s particular constitutional and criminal justice context.

Often taken for granted, these and other rights remain particularly vulnerable in any public emergency situation, such as war or serious political upheaval, where the Government suspends or derogates from certain rights to deal with the crisis at hand. The Republic of Armenia declared a state of public emergency in March 2008 to address political instability, in March 2020 to deal with Covid-19, and again in September 2020, in response to armed conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized to form part of Azerbaijan, but it is almost exclusively populated by ethnic Armenians. Armenia calls the region ‘Artsakh’ and disputes Azerbaijan’s sovereignty over it.

Prior to the workshop, which was financially supported by Swedish Development Cooperation, Professor Sunga and Judge Nikoghosyan prepared a judicial training manual for Armenia’s Academy of Justice. The manual reviews relevant international and regional human rights standards applicable in pre-trial criminal proceedings. It will be translated into the Armenian language.

While in Armenia, Professor Sunga, who teaches “Genocide” among his courses at JCU, took the opportunity to visit the Genocide Memorial Complex on Yerevan’s Tsitsernakaberd hill that memorializes the massacres, mass rape, death marches, mass deportation and systematic destruction of the Armenian community perpetrated from 1915 to 1917 in certain regions of the Ottoman Empire. These atrocities were carried out by the Committee of Union and Progress, a radical, ultra-nationalist faction of the Young Turks revolutionary movement of the time.

Born and raised in Ottawa, Canada, Dr. Lyal S. Sunga received a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Philosophy at Carleton University in Ottawa, before getting a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. He subsequently earned a Master’s in International Human Rights Law from the University of Essex, UK, and a Ph.D. in International Law from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland. After seven years working for various agencies of the United Nations, Dr. Sunga became Associate Professor and Director of the Human Rights Master’s Programme at the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law. He also taught at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Lund, Sweden, taking leave in 2007 for several months to serve as Coordinator for the UN Human Rights Council’s Group of Experts on Darfur. He moved to Rome in 2009, then he lived in The Hague from 2015 to 2018 before moving back to Rome in 2018.