‘This visit cannot be deemed as a regular visit. It was an exclusive visit, and we are happy that the newly elected President of the Venice Commmission chose Armenia for one of her first visits. She was here to participate in a conference jointly organised by the Council of Europe and the Armenian Constitutional Court under the heading ‘Judiciary as the Guardian of Democracy.’ Indeed, this was very symbolic, and it is of utmost importance that the judiciary truly understands and acknowledges its role in guarding democracy, protecting human rights and upholding rule of law. We received very important messages from the Presidents of the Constitutional Court and the Venice Commission. I was facilitating one of the panels, which was dedicated to the issue of accountability of the judiciary, which is also very important. The discourse about the judiciary, and this concerns especially the discourse of the actors from within the judiciary evolves around the concepts of independence and impartiality, both of which are important concepts, but it is also important that these actors have understanding of their responsibility, it is important that the independence of the judiciary is not perceived as a privilege but a necessity for administering justice.’
Lousineh Hakobyan, President of Europe in Law Association and practicing lawyer spoke about these issues in the studio of www.1in.am .
Addressing the accusations of the parliamentary opposition on the failure of the organisers to invite them (although the MPs from the ruling party were not invited either), L. Hakobyan noted:
‘I do not know if they were or were not invited but I saw only the representatives of the judiciary, international organisations and national civil society organisations. In one panel we also discussed what kind of cooperation we could have between these three parties and maybe it was right that for this there was no need to invite political parties. These were more specialised discussions and from civil society too only NGOs specialised in the problems of the judiciary were invited.
I could speak in more detail about the panel I facilitated. The speakers included one of the most experienced experts of the CoE Gerhard Reissner and Ms Hanne Juncker, the Executive Secretary of GRECO, and we had a very efficient discussion on the GRECO evaluations and the recommendations put forward to Armenia. Also since Mr Reissner represented the Consultative Council of the European Judges and used to be its former president, he spoke more about the CCJE standards in the area of independence and accountability of the judiciary, which was very important. Then we had a really fruitful discussion with the representatives of the judiciary on these standards , the opinions of the Venice Commission and the GRECO recommendations. I believe that such discussions are very important event if they will not result in immediate changes, they may still prepare the ground for longer-term common denominators.
In the first panel we also heard Mr Armen Harutyunyan, the ECtHR Judge elected in respect of Armenia. One of his ideas was that the judiciary does not have a very big role in guarding democracy as the political will of the politicians is more important. I do not agree with this viewpoint, as it is the judiciary that possesses the necessary safeguards of independence, etc. to act independently and has a bigger responsibility in guarding democracy. It is not to be denied that the political power has a responsibility too and must manifest political will but the role of the judiciary is not less important. And if we take the opposite view, we will need to agree with Feliks Tokhyan, a former judge at the Constitutional Court who once stated in an interview that for electoral cases democracy needs to be established in the streets, following which the Court will uphold this victory with its decisions.’
Lousineh Hakobyan noted that this was a very different conference, as it brought together the President of the Venice Commission, the GRECO Executive Secretary, the Armenian Judge in the ECtHR to discuss important matters with national experts. As a member of the Constitutional Commission, Lousineh Hakobyan stressed the importance of further cooperation with these bodies in the area of constitutional amendments.
In response to the question raised by the opposition that the judiciary is in the hands of those that ‘seized the power’, Lousineh Hakobyan noted:
‘It is one thing to talk like this, but the reality is very different. For example, two days ago one of the opposition MPs, Anna Grigoryan, was shouting in front of the EU Delegation to Armenia ‘I urge you (addressing the EU Ambassador) along with the people standing here to choose the right side, where democracy is, where human rights protection is.’ Essentially saying that the Ambassador must choose them. But dear lady, we were ‘lucky enough’ to live in this country and to witness the level of democracy when the leaders of your political party were in power. To hope that the people living here do not have a memory or have descended from the moon is not the right thing to do. You shouldn’t have hope that we do not know what is going on in our country. The same EU Ambassador to Armenia was the Ambassador of Germany to Armenia during the events of March 1. So these people too know everything very well. We are not very happy with the judiciary but the fact is that currently the judiciary bears more the influence of the opposition circles.’
In regard to the targetted propaganda against Ambassador Wiktorin, L. Hakobyan noted:
‘This is a very bad practice indeed. Even when Piotr Switalski was the EU Ambassador to Armenia, these same circles were targeting him in a very insulting language. But Andrea Wiktorin is different: she is a woman after all. Besides, in my subjective opinion she is defending these guys even more than they deserve. Lately, they have been complaining that she didn’t go out of the Delegation to see them when they were protesting in this area in the evening. I am sorry but the working day finishes at 18.00 pm. Second, they were there with stones, there was even a hammer in one footage. What was this woman supposed to do? Go out and get hit by a stone, so that the state had another cause of shame? Or go out and listen to your insults? Try to be capable of holding a civilised conversation. It is not that we never criticised ambassadors. There was a US Ambassador to Armenia, John Heffern and there was an incident when the US Embassy organised a vitis of several judges to the US for training. And among them were judges who in my belief were executing political orders. And I made a FB post on why I believed that no training or visit to the US could save those judges but I never insulted the Ambassador, just laid down my arguments. And two days later I received a personal call from Ambassador Heffern. And he was saying that I was right and a mistake took place. What I want to say is that you should have manners. Naira Zohrabyan, you are a woman after all. You are talking about good upbringing and manners, European values, you used to be a member of the Armenian delegation to PACE. How can you insult in such language another woman, someone who is your elder? I can’t really believe that I need to sit here and talk about manners in a public interview. If you want to say something to her, there are different formats for doing this. Recentlty, it caught my eye on the Delegation’s FB page that one of your colleagues, Taguhi Tovmasyan paid a visit to the Delegation. This means that the doors of the Delegation are not shut for you. Do you believe that she should be affected by this kind of blackmail? She is an experienced diplomat and Armenia is not the most difficult country for her after Belarus, for example. What I want to say is that you will never be able to get anything by blackmail. Finally, use your brain. If you want these organisations to support you but at the same time disseminate hate speech against the heads thereof, they will be more and more convinced that you have nothing in common with democracy.’
The lawyer also spoke about the recent incident with the Minister of Health when several women MPs stormed into her room.
‘This behaviour is no doubt unacceptable. And clearly these women take advantage of the situation that they are women and the response in respect of them will be milder when they manifest this базарные бабы behaviour to use the Russian word. But I would like to talk about a different issue: I learned from the news today that Anahit Avanesyan’s brother fell during the battles in Shushi-Lisagor, and I believe that in light of this Anahit Avanesyan takes the problems of the war in the health care sector and the rest more than seriously and does not in any way deserve the shaming these women were levelling at her,’ concluded Lousineh Hakobyan.