The Armenian authorities should draw “serious conclusions” from an OSCE report criticizing the trials of dozens of opposition members arrested after the 2008 presidential election, a senior pro-government lawmaker said on Tuesday.
In a report released on Monday, the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said at least some of those trials were not fair and exposed “shortcomings” in Armenia’s judicial system. It criticized Armenian judges for routinely sanctioning pre-trial detentions, ignoring torture claims made by defendants and readily accepting incriminating police testimonies.
David Harutiunian, a former justice minister chairing the Armenian parliament’s committee on legal affairs, described the criticism as “a cause for serious concern.” “Naturally, a number of serious actions should be taken, and I think they are simply inevitable,” he told RFE/RL. “I mean legislative changes in the first instance.”
“However, legislative changes alone are not sufficient,” he said. “We should change the practice of laws’ enforcement.”
Harutiunian acknowledged that Armenia’s existing laws already uphold the due process of law and provide for fair trials. “But perhaps a bad tradition that exists to this day was an impediment,” he said. “With that in mind, the law should further clarify things so that courts steer clear of vicious practices.”
The Armenian courts rarely hand down rulings going against the wishes of the government and law-enforcement agencies. Harutiunian played a major role in the selection and appointment of many judges throughout his nearly decade-long tenure as justice minister.
“The judicial system should draw serious conclusions and find ways of changing the situation in which we have found ourselves,” said Harutiunian. “I am glad that such a document [by the ODIHR] exists. It seems to have exposed the very important problems that do not characterize only those criminal cases that are scrutinized by the report. They are widespread in this country.”
Armenian judicial and law-enforcement authorities on Tuesday declined to comment on the ODIHR report, saying that they need more time to familiarize themselves with its findings.