The Armenian authorities have made some progress in their declared fight against widespread corruption among the country’s judges, an anti-graft arm of the Council of Europe said on Monday.
In a February 2016 report, the Strasbourg-based Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) described corruption as an “important problem for Armenian society.” “The judiciary is perceived as being particularly prone to corruption,” it said, also noting an “unsatisfactory” degree of judicial independence in Armenia.
The 60-page report, based on an April 2015 fact-finding trip to Yerevan by a GRECO delegation, listed 18 policy recommendations to the Armenian authorities. In particular, it called for more powers for a state body that scrutinizes income declarations filed by judges and other senior state officials as well as their family members.
“Since our report a number of steps have been taken to address issues raised by us,” the GRECO secretary general, Gianluca Esposito, said after a meeting of the Council of Europe watchdog held in Yerevan.
Esposito insisted that the authorities are moving “in the right direction.” But he also said: “I think that the glass is half full.”
In that regard, the GRECO chief mentioned a new Judicial Code which the Armenian authorities are planning to enact soon. He said it will be essential for making further progress towards the greater integrity and independence of Armenian courts.
Justice Minister Davit Harutiunian, who attended the GRECO meeting, also stressed the importance of the planned code. He further argued that the authorities have recently widened the circle of individuals obliged to submit income and asset declarations to a new anti-corruption commission that will start functioning in April. Harutiunian claimed that the commission will have sufficient powers to check the veracity of those disclosures and sanction officials hiding their revenues.
Despite having undergone frequent structural changes over the past two decades, Armenia’s judicial system is still regarded by many people as corrupt and dependent on the government. Armenia’s former human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, highlighted the problem in a 2013 report that accused judges of routinely taking bribes.
At least four Armenian judges are known to have been arrested and prosecuted on charges of bribery over the past year.