By Anna Saghabalian
Armenia’s Constitutional Court began accepting on Monday appeals from ordinary citizens for the first time during its decade-long existence following the entry into force of one of the recently enacted amendments to the Armenian constitution.
Until now, only the president of the republic, at least one third of the members of parliament as well as election candidates had the legal right to ask Armenia’s highest judicial body to overturn policies or actions which they believe are unconstitutional. The constitutional reform extended this prerogative to all citizens and permanent residents of the country. This potentially significant change formally took effect on Saturday.
The Constitutional Court’s reception hall was already full on Monday morning of people seeking redress against what they believe is injustice perpetrated by various government bodies and non-state actors.
“We have already accepted two applications that question the constitutionality of specific laws,” Robert Chobanian, a senior court staffer handling citizen appeals, told RFE/RL. “Another application is in the process of being accepted.”
Chobanian said most of the first visitors were turned away because their appeals were either wrongly drafted or not subject to consideration by the Constitutional Court. Among them was a group of elderly people who are demanding that the Armenian authorities compensate them for the loss of their savings deposited with a now defunct commercial bank during the early 1990s. The bank had turned out to be a financial scam and gone bankrupt in 1994.
“We hoped that we will at last find competent officials here,” said one of the defrauded bank clients. “But they rejected our demands without even considering them.”
Explaining the rebuff, Chobanian pointed to a statute of limitations which requires plaintiffs to take their case to the Constitutional Court no later than six months after exhausting other possibilities of legal action in Armenia.
Chobanian also said the Constitutional Court will first consider an appeal from Artak Zeynalian, a senior member of the opposition Hanrapetutyun party who is challenging the legality of a decree signed by President Robert Kocharian in January. Kocharian set up a caretaker body that briefly managed Armenia’s Office of the Human Rights Defender following the resignation of its first ombudsman, Larisa Alaverdian. Alaverdian and Armenian opposition leaders described the decree as unconstitutional. Zeynalian’s appeals against it were thrown out by lower courts.
Speaking to RFE/RL, the oppositionist said although he made use of his new constitutional right, he does not think that the Constitutional Court’s greater accessibility will improve the rule of law in Armenia. “I don’t have big expectations from the Constitutional Court,” he said. “It has never acted liked an impartial and independent court.”