Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian assured a visiting delegation of the Council of Europe on Friday that his administration wants to work together with the human rights organization in reforming Armenia’s judiciary.
The high-level delegation arrived in Yerevan earlier this week to discuss the planned reform with Armenian leaders in line with understandings reached by Pashinian and Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland during their phone conversation on May 22. It is headed by Christos Giakoumopoulos, the Strasbourg-based organization’s director general for human rights and rule of law, and comprises senior representatives of other Council of Europe bodies, notably the Venice Commission.
A statement by Pashinian’s press office cited Giakoumopoulos as saying that the Council of Europe welcomes “radical” judicial reforms planned by the Armenian authorities and is ready to “closely cooperate” with them for that purpose.
Pashinian responded by saying that the Council of Europe should “become involved, not just assist” in the reform process. He again stated that Armenian courts “do not enjoy the people’s trust” and must therefore undergo profound changes.
The prime minister demanded such changes on May 20 as hundreds of his supporters heeded his appeal to block the entrances to all court buildings in Armenia. The blockade followed a Yerevan court’s controversial decision to order his bitter foe and former President Robert Kocharian released from custody.
Pashinian and his political allies portrayed the decision as further proof that the Armenian judiciary remains closely linked to the country’s “corrupt” former leadership. They pledged to enact soon legislation on a mandatory “vetting” of all judges.
The parliamentary leader of the ruling My Step alliance, Lilit Makunts, said on Wednesday that a relevant bill is already being “finalized” by pro-government lawmakers and legal experts. She refused to give any details of the bill, prompting criticism from leaders of the opposition minority in the Armenian parliament.
The Armenian opposition also criticized the court blockade initiated by Pashinian, as did the two Armenia co-rapporteurs of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), Yuliya Lovochkina and Andrej Sircelj.
“Political stakeholders must refrain from actions and statements that could be perceived as exerting pressure on the judiciary,” the PACE officials said in a joint statement issued the day before Jagland and Pashinian spoke by phone.
According to an official readout of the phone call, the two men agreed that the reform process “should proceed in conformity with the Constitution, the relevant international standards and Armenia's obligations as a member state of the Council of Europe.” Pashinian and the Council of Europe officials reaffirmed this at their meeting in Yerevan.