The Armenian authorities have dismissed a report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation criticizing the trials of dozens of opposition members arrested after the 2008 presidential election and calling for reform of Armenia’s judicial system.
The move may put them at odds with the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), another pan-European body that has endorsed the criticism.
In a long-anticipated report released on March 8, the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) questioned the impartiality of Armenian judges that ruled on the highly controversial cases. It said they routinely sanctioned pre-trial detentions, ignored torture claims made by defendants and readily accepted incriminating police testimonies at face value.
“Judges at times tended to treat the parties unequally, displaying openly friendly attitudes towards the prosecution and openly hostile attitudes towards the defense,” concluded the 114-page report. It also contained specific recommendations which the Warsaw-based watchdog believes would address the “shortcomings” of the Armenian judiciary.
Senior PACE officials monitoring the political situation in Armenia on Thursday urged the authorities in Yerevan to carry out relevant judicial reforms. “The ODIHR report pinpoints serious problems with the functioning of the judiciary in Armenia, and we would like to have a clear indication from the authorities as to exactly when they intend to carry out all of its recommendations,” Georges Colombier and John Prescott said in a joint statement.
However, Armenia’s Justice Ministry and Court of Cassation made clear the same day that they disagree with the ODIHR report, saying that its findings are based on “mere presumptions” and reflect “subjective perceptions” of its authors. “The courts acted within the framework of their powers, handing down both guilty and not-guilty verdicts,” they said in a written response obtained by RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The 40-page statement claimed that none of the prison sentences, condemned by the Armenian opposition as politically motivated, were solely based on incriminating police testimony. It also defended Armenian courts for allowing law-enforcement to keep arrested oppositionists in pre-trial custody and ignoring torture allegations made by the latter in virtually all cases. Those allegations were false and aimed at “creating an illusion of mass violence” in police custody, it said.
The authorities’ response also contradicts the views of David Harutiunian, chairman of the Armenian parliament’s committee on legal affairs and head of the Armenian delegation at the PACE. Harutiunian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service earlier this month that the authorities should draw “serious conclusions” from the ODIHR report. The problems highlighted by the report are “widespread in this country,” said the former justice minister.