By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Armenia’s Constitutional Court on Friday invalidated the government’s decision five years go to sign up to an international treaty that set up a permanent tribunal empowered to punish crimes against humanity.
In a rare ruling challenging the executive, the court said the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court runs counter to several provisions of the Armenian constitution which guarantee national sovereignty over judicial affairs.
The Rome treaty was originally signed by 120 countries in 1998 during a conference held under the aegis of the United Nations. Armenia joined it in 1998. The number of signatory-states has since risen to 139. Ninety-four of them, including neighboring Georgia, have already ensured the its ratification by their parliament. The treaty entered into force in July 2002.
Headquartered in The Hague, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is primarily tasked with investigating acts of genocides, war crimes and crimes against humanity. “The Court will only investigate and prosecute if a State is unwilling or unable to genuinely prosecute,” reads a mission statement posted on its web site.
Unlike the more famous International Court of Justice (ICJ) also based in The Hague, the ICC will have the authority to punish government officials and other individuals responsible for massive violations of human rights. The ICJ mainly handles cases involving states.
Justice Minister David Harutiunian, who fought the government’s corner in the Constitutional Court, said, “I think it makes sense to have such a court because it would deal with serious crimes against humanity such as war and genocide. It is very important for all countries of the world to join forces against such crimes.”
However, the court’s ruling means that the Armenian government can not send the Rome Statute to the parliament for ratification.
“The agreement can be considered for ratification only after appropriate amendments to the constitution,” Kim Balayan, a Constitutional Court justice, told RFE/RL. “Our constitution does not allow the authorities to cede judicial functions to a foreign state or an international
But as a member of the Council of Europe, Armenia has agreed to submit to the jurisdiction of the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg. Armenian citizens can file lawsuits against their government with the Strasbourg court after exhausting all possibilities of legal action at home.
The ICC, by contrast, can bring proceedings against anybody from a signatory-state at its own initiative. Furthermore, the new Hague court can put on trial individuals acquitted or not prosecuted in their country for their suspected role in serious crimes.
The United States as well as neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkey are among those countries that have not signed the Rome treaty.
(Photolur photo: Gagik Harutiunian, chairman of the Constitutional Court.)