Press release: Summing-up of “Towards an Independent and Transparent Judiciary in Armenia” project

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In April-July 2022, the “Helsinki Association” human rights NGO implemented the “Towards an independent and transparent judiciary in Armenia” project.

The project was aimed at increasing the accessibility of information on the activities of the judicial institutions through the use of a tried-and-tested court monitoring mechanism and by publicizing the results obtained through it, to provide a comparative analysis of the  activities of the system between 2021 and 2022 and proposals for reforms.

The project is co-financed by the Polish development cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, through Solidarity Fund PL.

In essence, it was the logical continuation of the “Legally educated young citizens as guardians of an independent and transparent judiciary” project, which was also implemented in cooperation with the Solidarity Fund PL. The project aimed to increase transparency in the criminal justice system of Armenia, by encouraging youth participation, on the one hand, and to promote the establishment and development of the institution of court monitoring in the Republic of Armenia, on the other.

Within the framework of the project a court monitoring mechanism was developed that contains the following:

  • The monitor training process;
  • the frequency and form of monitoring;
  • partnership and feedback as both inside the court monitoring group, and among the groups;
  • accountability and advocacy for results within a wide public.

The use of this tool provides an opportunity to form and develop respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, to contribute to effective legal protection in case of their violations, and to more effective and wider participation of members of civil society in decision-making processes, thereby making an important contribution to the formation of trust towards the Government and its policies, and also in the work of unity and cohesion for the overall development of the country in the democratic processes taking place within the society.

The project was implemented in the cities of Yerevan, Gyumri and Vanadzor of Armenia, where groups of court monitors function. With the support and direct guidance of the NGO’s experienced observers, more than 50 court monitors in three groups developed their legal knowledge and experience by conducting more than 700 visits to courts.

Significantly enough, over the past two and a half years, a total of more than 500 participants from all regions of Armenia have been involved in the monitoring programs, and more than a thousand visits have been made to local courts of first instance of General jurisdiction.

Workshops and experience exchange meetings-discussions on the monitoring results with experts in the field – representatives of the Ministry of Justice, judges, prosecutors, lawyers and others, were also important. Moreover, these were aimed at becoming a platform for effective communication, co-operation and increasing the level of knowledge and trust regarding the functioning of the system between the justice system and the civil society.

The meetings were conducted in the Yerevan’s “Kentron”, Gyumri and Vanadzor seats of the court of general jurisdiction of the first instance. Specialists in the field attending the meetings shared their experiences with the court monitors, speaking about, in particular, the features and importance of the position of the judge and prosecutor in the administration of justice, the problems they face and possible solutions. They spoke also about the importance of court monitoring.

The court monitors asked questions to the field experts so that to receive their comments about the problems that they had discovered and recorded during the observation of sessions in criminal cases. The range of problems, in particular, included not only systemic problems related to the field under study, but also customary problems, regularities, practices, attitudes, which should also be paid attention to, as they have a tangible impact on the functioning of the judicial system, in both a positive and negative manner.

The questions were within the frameworks of the following issues:

  • Too heavy workload of the courts;
  • Starting the court hearings with considerable delays and with even not any clarification about the delays (which violates the requirement of Article 317 of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Armenia);
  • Delaying court hearings without even starting the hearings (which contradicts the collective logic of many articles of the Code);
  • Delaying court hearings without specifying the reasons (which makes the investigation of a case within a reasonable time considered a necessary component of justice incomplete).

The workload of the courts was presented as the reason for most of the problems. Not all answers were considered comprehensive or acceptable by the court observers.

The court monitors also paid attention to the lack of access to justice for people with limited abilities, the complete or partial lack of special skills for examining cases involving vulnerable persons (in particular, licensed interpreters in minority languages in Armenia, etc.), and a number of other issues due to the problems of the building conditions of the courts, and they recorded the problems.

All three groups confirmed they did not record any obstacle on entering court buildings and conducting their observations. The main problem they faced was the impossibility of observing several consecutive sessions as a result of regular postponements of the sessions in the same criminal case, because the next session in the case was scheduled after several months.

The findings collected by the organization can become an important basis for further studies, used by anyone who is willing be involved in the important and necessary processes of court monitoring and to make efforts for the reform of the mentioned sector in the country. This can also be done through various public events, reports, press releases, protests, correspondence, election campaigns, training, and other possible means.

Thus, the court monitoring chosen as a tool for studying the functioning of the judicial system in the Republic of Armenia aimed at improvements of the system, and in particular, for uncovering the state of public access to information about it, became the best instrument for involving in the process a large number of people interested in the reform of the judicial system, mostly young people aged from 16 to 30, and thanks to their efforts, to collect necessary information to record the problems and to develop proposals for reforms presented in this report. It was also necessary to compare the information with that obtained through the same means in 2021 and make valid conclusions about whether the system underwent any changes in the past year.

The presentation of the report took place on July 28. The purpose of the report is to highlight the problems hindering the effective operation of the judicial system and to present suggestions for realistic improvements and solutions. The report is based on a comparative analysis of the availability of information on the operation of the judicial system in the Republic of Armenia between 2021 and 2022 years.

Some concerns of international and local organizations regarding the independence, impartiality, transparency and public access of the judicial system, the low level of public trust in the system, and other existing problems are also included. about Accordingly, it can be stated that despite the adoption of strategies aimed at judicial reforms, deep and systemic changes in the field have not been carried out, ultimately bringing to a number of long-lasted challenges, such as incomplete access to information about the sector and low level of public trust in it.

The report is interesting and important especially because, as a tool for uncovering and solving the problems, it advocates the court monitoring activities of civil society, offering a tested and simple mechanism and toolkit.

Moreover, emphasizing the collaboration between the judicial system and civil society in solving a number of problems, it is believed that it can play a significant role in both the reform of the judicial system and, through it, the establishment of human rights and democracy.

More than 30 participants were present at the event, including representatives of the Solidarity Fund PL Anna Radecka and Mikołaj Grabowski; Marcin Różycki – Head of Division, Second Secretary of the Political-Economic Department of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Armenia;  Lilit Antonyan – US Embassy in Armenia; Sabina Nováková and Naria Zalyan – Embassy of the Czech Republic in Armenia; Julia Ohanyan – Ministry of Justice of Armenia; the head of the EU Delegation to Armenia, Ambassador Andrea Victorin; Tamara Barbakadze and Natalya Adamyan – Council of Europe office in Armenia; Karen Amiryan – Prosecutor General’s office in Armenia; Tereza Davtyan – Standing Committee on Protection of Human Rights and Public Affairs of the National Assembly of Armenia; Nairi Mirzoyan and Tsovinar Margaryan – Corruption Prevention Commission; Zaruhi Hovhannisyan – Group of public observers of public control in penal institutions and bodies of the RA Ministry of Justice; Taguhi Harutyunyan – Human Rights Defender Office in Armenia; court monitors from the cities of Yerevan, Gyumri and Vanadzor.

In their words, the invited guests highly appreciated the court monitoring or court watch programs in the aforementioned format as the best opportunity for civil society to organize the work of court monitors, to observe court proceedings, to record and publicize the results of observations in a systemic manner, also pointing out that these programs encourage and strengthen the multifaceted response of the public to the existing problems and gaps in the justice system, contribute to the increase of public awareness, promote justice and make courts accountable to the public.

In that regard, we also emphasize the issue of changing the attitude in the judicial system, and for this, sharing the results and conclusions of court monitoring, open and unfettered discussions and meetings with judges, prosecutors, lawyers and other employees of the justice sector is a necessary and important factor to listen to their opinions, best practices exchange, partnership, as well as for the purpose of formation and continuous development of public trust in the justice system, which is still lacking and is a must in the Republic of Armenia.

* The project is co-financed by the Polish development cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland, through Solidarity Fund PL.

The Helsinki Association human rights non-governmental organization was founded in 1997. The organization has been carried out its activities in accordance with the Agreement on Cooperation and Security in Europe signed in Helsinki in August 1975 and the organization’s statute. It has an office in Yerevan and a branch office in Vanadzor town of Armenia. HAHR implements protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech and religion, the right to peaceful protests and assembly in courts, penitentiaries, psychiatric institutions, and the military, and their advocacy. It has no political, religious or national orientation. HAHR monitors also the implementation of the obligations assumed by the human rights international treaties and agreements signed by the Republic of Armenia.

For more information, contact:
Karine Torosyan, Program Coordinator | Helsinki Association for Human Rights (HAHR)
karinetorosyan@hahr.am; +374 10 531 972

www.hahr.amwww.humanrightstv.am

 

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