Janez Lenarcic, director of the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), pointed to relevant recommendations made by the Warsaw-based body in a report on Armenia made public a year ago.
The 114-page report assessed criminal cases brought against about a hundred Armenian opposition members who were arrested following the disputed February 2008 presidential election.
The ODIHR questioned the impartiality of judges that sided with prosecutors in virtually all of those cases. It criticized them for routinely sanctioning pre-trial detentions, ignoring torture claims made by defendants and readily accepting incriminating police testimonies at face value.
Speaking at a seminar in Yerevan, Lenarcic expressed hope that the recommendations will be incorporated into a new Code of Procedural Justice which is currently drafted by authorities with the stated aim of improving human rights protection in Armenia. “We hope that goal will be achieved,” he said.
Lenarcic singled out the need to limit law-enforcement bodies’ heavy recourse to pre-trial arrest and address widespread ill-treatment of criminal suspects in police custody. “Unfortunately, this problem exists in many systems of criminal justice,” he said. “We have pointed out that the problem also exists in Armenia and proposed to the authorities to set up a body that would deal with reports of torture.”
“The authorities have already taken into account some of our recommendations, but much remains to be done to ensure fair trials, judicial independence and a genuine separation of powers,” said the ODIHR chief.
Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian, Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian other senior Armenian officials attending the seminar blamed those problems on the existing code. Tovmasian said it “doesn’t ensure human rights protection in full,” while Gagik Harutiunian, chairman of Armenia’s Constitutional Court complained about “huge loopholes for subjective manifestations.”
But Stepan Safarian, a parliament deputy from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, dismissed these explanations, saying that laws are not the main reason for a lack of judicial independence in the country. “People simply avoid acknowledging that court rulings [on jailed oppositionists] were handed down on government orders,” he said.
Lenarcic held separate meetings with Tovmasian and Hovsepian during his visit to Yerevan. An ODIHR statement said he “stressed the importance of respecting the freedom of assembly and exercising utmost restraint in policing peaceful gatherings.” He also urged them to “address the lack of public confidence” in electoral processes in the country.