By Anush Martirosian
Armenia registered an increase by nearly a third in the number of legal complaints from its citizens to Strasbourg in 2007, according to the Justice Ministry.
“After the Republic of Armenia ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in April 2006, more than a thousand complaints had been filed against it by its citizens before 2007,” says Artyom Geghamian, who heads the Ministry’s department liaising with the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights. “And a total of 597 complaints were lodged with the European Court against the Republic of Armenia in the course of 2007 alone.”
While before 2007 a lot of complaints were filed by citizens against the controversial application of so-called administrative arrests against them, including for participating in the 2003-2004 opposition protests, then in recent years many complaints have also stemmed from citizens’ property disputes with the government and private developers in view of an unprecedented construction boom mainly in the central districts of capital Yerevan.
So far, the European Court has issued eight rulings upholding the claims of Armenian citizens or corporate bodies against their government.
Meanwhile, lawyers who participated in the weekend seminar held in the Armenian resort town of Tsakhkadzor upon the initiative of the Femida (Themis) nongovernmental organization insist that financial or other types of penalties must be applied against judges whose verdicts are subsequently faulted by the European court.
One of the latest verdicts against Armenia was passed by the Strasbourg body in June. The Court then held unanimously that by repeatedly refusing to issue a broadcasting license to A1+ TV -- a rare station that had regularly aired criticism of the government before it was controversially pulled off the air in 2002 -- the Armenian authorities violated Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Court also awarded the applicant company, Meltex Ltd, 30,000 euros for moral and pecuniary damages. The TV station, however, was not immediately provided with an opportunity to exercise its right to compete for a broadcasting license.
Furthermore, Armenia’s parliament last week voted overwhelmingly to pass government-drafted legal amendments according to which the National Commission on Television and Radio will be unable to hold tenders for broadcasting licenses until July 2010 in view of the planned transition to mandatory digital broadcasting. But critics believe the real purpose of the move is to fend off renewed Western pressure for the reopening of A1+.
According to European Court member Alvina Giulumian, the Court’s decisions are mandatory for execution.
“The refusal [by the regulatory body] to issue a license to A1+ was based on ungrounded decisions. It means that A1+ should participate in a new tender,” Giulumian said.
And lawyer Tigran Ter-Yesayan, who had submitted the A1+ case to the European Court, repeated the claim that the latest amendments to the Law on Television and Radio were introduced for the sole purpose of preventing A1+ from participating in the upcoming tenders.
“They have now changed the law and there is no opportunity even for participating in a tender now,” he said.
And Giulumian reminded that the Armenian government assumed certain obligations when it became a member of the Council of Europe in 2001 and therefore is “obliged” to comply with the European Court’s rulings.
“For years Ankara did not comply with the rulings on the applications of Cypriot Greeks against Turkey, but finally it had to do that,” she said. “If such states as Turkey and Russia eventually have to reckon with it, we are certain to do that, too.”