Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s plans to set up “bodies of transitional justice” do not run counter to Armenia’s constitution or threaten judicial independence, Justice Minister Artak Zeynalian insisted on Tuesday.
Pashinian made a case for such bodies when he lambasted Armenian judges at a rally held in Yerevan on Friday. He said they may be necessary because “many corrupt figures of our judicial system have still not grasped the popular revolution” that brought him to power in May.
Pashinian did not specify what concrete forms “transitional justice” in the country could take. Nor did he name any of the judges who he said are still taking “orders from representatives of the former corrupt authorities.” “Come to your senses and don’t mess with the people,” he warned them.
The remarks prompted serious concern from political allies of former President Serzh Sarkisian and other critics. Some of them accused Pashinian of seeking to gain control over courts through new and unconstitutional bodies. Parliament speaker Ara Babloyan suggested on Monday that the premier hinted at “illegal” retroactive enforcement of new and punitive laws under the guise of “transitional justice.”
Zeynalian dismissed those concerns, saying that the possible introduction of new legal mechanisms would not contradict the Armenian constitutional or international conventions signed by Armenia.
“No courts will be dissolved and no courts of courts will be set up,” he told a news conference. “Our constitution and international obligations will not be breached. No special courts will be created. Everything will be legal and aimed at restoring human rights.”
The minister too did not explain what exactly “transitional justice” could mean in practice in Armenia. He said only that the government is looking into the experience of Georgia and other nations that have applied that concept. “We will also learn from their mistakes,” he said.
The idea of transitional justice is meant to address large-scale or systematic human rights violations in countries emerging from periods of conflict and repression. It involves a range of judicial and non-judicial measures, including criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, and reparation programs.
Armenian courts have long been known for their lack of independence from the government and the law-enforcement apparatus. In the last three months, some of them have made decisions strongly criticized by Pashinian and his allies.