The new head of the European Union Delegation to Armenia reaffirmed on Friday the EU’s readiness to assist the Armenian government in reforming the country’s judicial system.
Ambassador Andrea Wiktorin said EU officials look forward to seeing and evaluating a final government plan for judicial reforms.
“I think it is impressive and we have to welcome the fact that the Armenian government is really active to introduce a judicial strategy and to implement reforms,” Wiktorin told reporters. “This is work in progress. They are finalizing the strategy. The strategy will be seen by experts.”
“You are in a very difficult phase and you are tackling one of the most difficult problems. Ten years ago I saw what it means if normal people have no confidence in the judicial system and judges,” said the diplomat who had served as Germany’s ambassador in Yerevan from 2007-2009.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian vowed judicial reforms and urged supporters to block court buildings across Armenia in May after a Yerevan court released from prison his bitter foe and former President Robert Kocharian, who is facing serious criminal charges. He demanded a mandatory vetting of all Armenian judges, saying that many of them remain linked to the country’s former leadership.
Pashinian has since repeatedly stated that he wants to make the Armenian judiciary “truly independent.” His critics say, however, he is on the contrary seeking to gain control over the courts.
Wiktorin declined to comment on the opposition allegations about government pressure on the judiciary. “The EU is in direct contact [with the government,]” she said. “If we have [critical] things to deliver we will do this directly.”
Donald Tusk, the outgoing head of the European Union’s top decision-making body, welcomed the Armenian authorities’ “focus on creating an independent, efficient and accountable judicial system” when he visited Yerevan in July.
The reform process is also closely monitored by the Council of Europe and its Venice Commission in particular. According to an internal Venice Commission report, Armenian and Council of Europe officials agreed later in May that a general vetting of all judges “would be neither necessary nor useful.” Instead, the Armenian authorities will expand legal mechanisms for disciplinary proceedings against judges and anti-corruption asset declarations filed by them, said the report.