Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian on Friday criticized the state human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, for alleging widespread corruption among Armenian judges, saying that the claims will further undermine public trust in courts.
Andreasian accused judges of routinely taking bribes to hand down corresponding rulings in a report on the country’s judicial system released earlier this month. Citing interviews with unnamed judges, prosecutors and lawyers, the report claims that the kickbacks are typically equivalent to 10 percent of compensatory damages sought in various disputes. They could range from $500 to $50,000 per case, it says.
The Armenian Union of Judges condemned the corruption allegations as baseless and said they carry a “serious risk of the destabilization of state and public order” on December 11. For his part, Prosecutor-General Gevorg Kostanian challenged the ombudsman to substantiate the allegations with “at least one concrete fact.”
“The report portrays all judges as … rascals. This is the impression you get when reading the report,” Tovmasian complained at a news conference.
The minister warned that public distrust of the courts will only deepen as a result. More Armenians will now think that judicial and other reforms require only “surgical interventions” by the state, he said.
“They most important factor is a lack of trust,” he said. “But let us ask ourselves: what have we done to increase that trust?”
Tovmasian was careful to stress at the same time that the damning report was drawn up by a “concerned person.”
Andreasian has stood by the report’s findings in response to the criticism. His allegations have been echoed by civil society representatives monitoring the Armenian judiciary that has long been notorious for corruption and lack of independence.