As the ancient Confucius saying goes, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, first dig two graves.” Nikol Pashinyan and his zealous prosecutors should remember this truism.
The newly minted prime minister of Armenia, who campaigned on removing corruption from the country’s politics, seems to be taking pages from the time-honored playbook of Third World, tin-pot dictators - the prosecution and jailing of the political opposition. This does not bode well for the judicial future of Armenia, a strategically placed nation in the Caucasus.
Former Armenian President Robert Kocharyanwas arrested July 26 (and released Aug. 13) in a move organized by Mr. Pashinyan and executed by the Armenian security service (“Special Investigative Service”). The charges of constitutional violations from 2008 cover up a deep-set conflict between Mr. Pashinyan and Mr. Kocharyan. I am not vouching personally for Mr. Kocharyan or his past behavior, but from a judicial perspective, these actions seem to be leading Armenia again down a very dangerous road of illegality.
On March 1, 2008, disturbances and clashes over the election eventually led to situations that threatened the life of the nation and led Mr. Kocharyan to proclaim a state of emergency. Ten people were killed and more than 200 were injured during the crisis, including police. The state of emergency was lifted 20 days later.
The simple fact is the Constitutional Court of Armenia has the exclusive jurisdiction to establish the constitutionality of the president’s decree. Mr. Pashinyan’s investigator has breached the principal of lawfulness, meaning he is only entitled to perform actions which are legally authorized. The Armenian Parliament unanimously declared the decree met the requirements of legality, necessity and proportionality. The emergency measures were consistent with Armenia’s obligations under international law, specifically Article 14 of the European Conveniton of Human Rights, the U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the U.N. basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, and the Paris Minimum Standards of Human Rights Norms in a State of Emergency.
Anahit Chilingaryan, a Human Rights Watch analyst based in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, said: “As a new government sets the agenda in Yerevan, it is high time to consider the excessive use of pretrial detention in politically sensitive trials. One step prosecutors and judges can take right away is to stop the blanket use of pretrial custody. They will also need to ensure that charges are based on sound evidence and are not excessive, intended to silence others, or to settle scores with people whose messages the authorities don’t agree with. Resolving the issue of politically motivated prosecutions will be challenging, but very important to restore faith in Armenia’s criminal justice.”
Laurence Broers, an associate fellow at London-based Chatham House, also opined about the situation, saying that it is questionable whether Armenia’s judiciary will be able to offer Mr. Kocharyan a “credible legal process.”
“The problem is that Armenia’s justice sector has hardly had time to reform, and the danger is that any failure to uphold the highest standards could make the process look more like ‘victor’s justice’ than a society coming to terms with its past … Pashinyan would do well to look at the lessons from neighboring Georgia, where successive United National Movement and Georgian Dream administrations tainted their wider agendas for political reform with dubious justice meted out to opponents and rivals…and could come back to haunt Pashinyan in the long-term.”
The arrest and prosecution of the former president is only the tip of the iceberg. The new rulers of Armenia are trying to abuse they tried and true bugaboo of fighting corruption to settle old political scores and to go after their political opponents.
Mr. Pashinyan promised to be a temporary leadership figure, but “conveniently” there is no election law and no date for the elections. In the meantime Mr. Pashinyan and his people are engaged in a massive power grab in which their remnants of democracy in Armenia may be destroyed.
If Armenia is serious about pursuing its Western-oriented policy, including more European integration, it needs to abide by international legal and human rights norms, including respecting Council of Europe decisions from 2008, which approved the outcome of the 2008 elections.
America is very much interested in stability for the Caucasus region, the soft underbelly of Europe which has been a hotbed of Islamic terror. Upholding the rule of law in Armenia is paramount to enabling this stability. Violations of human rights and legal norms can be systemically destructive for a country, which is the case of Mr. Kocharyan.
While it is understandable that Mr. Pashinyan is a political novice, he should not cross some red lines, including engaging in a vendetta and destroying the brittle and weak rule of law in Armenia.
Everyone knows that Mr. Kocharyan brought similar charges against Mr. Pashinyan during his reign. Committing the same illegalities will only damage Mr. Pashinyan in the long run.
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