The Council of Europe’s Secretary General Marija Pejcinovic Buric spoke of “concerns” about ongoing political developments in Armenia when she met with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian in Munich at the weekend.
The meeting focused on the Armenian government’s judicial reforms and, in particular, its controversial decision to hold a referendum on replacing most members of the country’s Constitutional Court.
In his opening remarks at the meeting publicized by his press office, Pashinian again accused the court of maintaining close ties to the former Armenian leadership.
“We are in a very, very careful process of demining our democracy, our judiciary, and I am very glad to have this opportunity to give you some information about the current processes because recently we decided to have a referendum connected with the Constitutional Court,” he said.
“Of course, from the Council of Europe side we watch very carefully what is going on,” responded Pejcinovic Buric. “There are some concerns and I would like to hear from your side how you see this process developing.”
“For us, it is very important that obligations and standards are followed as we have other bodies that will be involved in work with Armenia within the judiciary and the Constitutional Court,” she added in English.
According to a statement by his office, Pashinian then “spoke in detail about the circumstances of the referendum” slated for April 5. Pejcinovic Buric “expressed the Council of Europe’s full support for reforms, including in the judicial field, taking place in Armenia,” said the statement. It did not elaborate on the concerns mentioned by the head of Europe’s leading human rights organization.
The Council of Europe issued no statements on the meeting held on the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference.
Armenians are due to vote on April 5 on draft constitutional amendments that would end the powers of seven of the nine Constitutional Court judges installed by the country’s former governments.
Pashinian has repeatedly accused the judges -- and chief justice Hrayr Tovmasian in particular -- of impeding his efforts to make the Armenian judiciary “truly independent.” Critics claim that he is seeking to gain control over the country’s highest court.
Opposition lawmakers have denounced the amendments drafted by Pashinian’s My Step bloc as unconstitutional. They also say that the Armenian authorities should have consulted with legal experts from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission before putting the proposed changes on the referendum.
Earlier this month, the Armenia co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) urged the authorities to submit the changes to the Venice Commission for examination “as soon as possible.” A senior Armenian lawmaker countered that Yerevan is under no legal obligation to seek such judgment.