The emergence of an independent judiciary widely trusted by citizens is vital for the democratization of Armenia’s political system, the head of the European Union Delegation in Yerevan, Piotr Switalski, said on Monday.
Switalski made a case for an “independent, efficient and reliable justice system” at a seminar on long-running judicial reforms which many Armenians believe have not addressed serious problems with the rule of law in their country.
“You cannot have an efficient and effective democracy if people responsible for election fraud are not held accountable, if people unhappy with the conduct of elections lack possibilities of achieving justice,” he said.
“You cannot have the rule of law if courts cannot deal with corruption issues and if some citizens of a country feel that they are more equal than the others,” added the diplomat. This is why, he said, the EU has provided 45 million euros ($50 million) in the past decade to support the implementation of Armenian judicial reforms.
Ever since the mid-1990s, the Armenian judiciary has undergone sweeping structural changes that were supposed to make it less susceptible to government pressure or influence. However, local courts still rarely acquit criminal suspects or rule against various government bodies. Critics of the Armenian authorities portray this as proof of a grave lack of judicial independence in the country.
In another indication of the problem, thousands of Armenians have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) since their country submitted itself to the Strasbourg-based tribunal’s jurisdiction over a decade ago. The ECHR has handed down more than 60 rulings against the Armenian state to date. In 2015 alone it awarded 230,000 euros in damages to individuals whose rights were found to have been violated by Armenian government, law-enforcement or judicial bodies.
Speaking at the Yerevan seminar, Justice Minister Arpine Hovannisian acknowledged “shortcomings” in the work of Armenian courts but largely blamed them on Armenia’s Soviet past. She insisted that further judicial reforms planned by the authorities will make a difference within the next few years.
“We believe that ongoing reform efforts will allow us to gradually conform to international judicial standards by 2020-2021,” declared Hovannisian.