Armenian constitutional amendments, disputed by opposition, human rights activists come into force
New constitutional amendments adopted by the parliament entered into force in Armenia on June 26.
These amendments require judges of the Constitutional Court who have served a twelve-year term to resign. There are currently three judges to whom this applies. In addition, the chairman of the Constitutional Court, Hrayr Tovmasyan, has been dismissed. The court will now be chaired by one of the remaining judges.
The judges who were forced to resign did not agree with the decision. They made a statement voicing their displeasure on the day before the amendments were set to come into force.
The opposition believes that parliament was not authorized to amend the constitution. One of the parliamentary parties has already appealed to the Constitutional Court to ascertain the constitutionality of the decision adopted by the MPs of the ruling bloc. Both opposition parliamentary groups abstained from voting on the constitutional amendments.
The current government, which came to power after the 2018 Velvet Revolution, believes that the judges elected by the previous administration are incapable of making fair decisions. Attempts to remove them from power began last year. A referendum on this issue was scheduled for April 5, 2020, but did not take place because of the coronavirus epidemic. And on June 22, the Armenian parliament adopted the draft constitutional amendments.
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Opinions of the judges who were dismissed
On June 25, Chairman of the Constitutional Court Hrayr Tovmasyan, judges Alvina Gyulumyan, Felix Tokhyan and Hrant Nazaryan made a statement:
“In accordance with article 167 of the constitution, the powers of the Constitutional Court are determined by the constitution, and the procedure for the formation of the court and its work are determined by the constitution and the law on the Constitutional Court.”
In addition, the judges, referring to articles of the constitution, explain that legally, they should be allowed to continue occupying their posts.
On the afternoon of June 26, news broke that the chairman of the court, Hrayr Tovmasyan, had taken a leave of absence. Judge Alvina Gyulumyan, however, came to work in the morning. She said that no one notified her that her powers have been terminated:
“The amendments were adopted, but there is a law regulating the activities of the Constitutional Court. In accordance with this law, we continue to work.”
Alvina Gyulumyan plans to defend her right to work in the European Court of Human Rights.
Statement by the prime minister and Minister of Justice
Just after midnight on June 26, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced on his Facebook page that the amendments had gone into effect:
“All state structures in Armenia are obliged to take note of this fact and be guided by it.”
The speaker of parliament published the adopted constitutional amendments on July 25th, which meant that they went into force the following day.
After the prime minister, Minister of Justice Rustam Badasyan also commented on the situation:
“The political forces that are trying to create an artificial agenda will be unable to interfere in authorities’ plans in any way, and their attempts are futile. The constitutional amendments have already come into force.”
Opinions of human rights activists
Armenian human rights activists held a protest rally on June 26.
Chairman of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia and human rights activist Avetik Ishkhanyan believes that “brute force conquered the law” in Armenia:
“And, unfortunately, it is not the political actors, but lawyers and judges who came out to fight against the use of political brute force. There is one phrase to describe the situation in Armenia regarding the Constitutional Courts: “Might makes right.”
Ruben Melikyan, human rights activist and chairman of the NGO Pravavoy Put (Legal Path), believes that:
“Nowhere is it indicated that the country’s prime minister, and even less so the Minister of Justice, have the right to interpret the constitution and decide what parts should be applied and what should not. Today, we experienced a true constitutional crisis. The very situation that the authorities have been warning against the whole year, they created by their own hands.”
Can the decision be challenged?
To challenge constitutional amendments approved by the parliament, the Prosperous Armenia opposition faction appealed to the Constitutional Court with the signatures of 26 MPs on the morning of June 26.
The signatures of one fifth of the total number of MPs are needed to appeal to the Constitutional Court. There are 132 deputies in the Armenian parliament, meaning that they must have at least 27 signatures. Therefore, it is not yet clear whether the supreme court will accept the opposition’s appeal.
“There is a specific procedure which must be followed, the issue will be discussed and it will be decided whether our appeal will be accepted or not. The maximum amount of time we must wait [to see whether the appeal is accepted] is 15 days,” said Prosperous Armenia MP Naira Zohrabyan.