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December 10, 2010

Detention Procedure Assessment Shows Overwhelming Commitment to Criminal Justice Reform in Armenia

December 2010

On November 16, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) launched its pilot Detention Procedure Assessment Tool (DPAT) for Armenia in Yerevan. The DPAT evaluates the legal framework, procedures and practices relating to deprivation of liberty at all stages of criminal proceedings. The 2010 DPAT for Armenia was based on in-depth interviews with a variety of criminal justice actors and a review of all relevant Armenian legislation and secondary sources.

The assessment identified several positive aspects of the Armenian detention and sentencing regime, including the 2008 establishment of a case precedent system, making European Court of Human Rights and Armenian Court of Cassation judgments binding on lower courts; the establishment and zealous work of the Public Defender’s Office; and the active role of the Court of Cassation in protecting both victims’ and defendants’ rights. However, the report also found that detention continues to be imposed far too frequently, both at pretrial and dispositional stages, and identified many areas in which Armenia fails to comply with international norms.

The assessment uncovered a lack of adequate financial, infrastructure and personnel resources throughout the criminal justice system, including the lack of a comprehensive system for juvenile justice and an insufficient framework for alternatives to detention. It also found that undue influence on the criminal justice system—in particular from the executive branch—is prevalent and that the independent parole commissions fail to operate in a transparent and impartial manner. The report also noted widespread, serious violations of arrest procedure. Overall, the report emphasized that despite the many challenges facing the Armenian criminal detention system, trends are positive and the Armenian legal community demonstrates an overwhelming commitment to further reform.

Following the rollout of the report, two ABA ROLI-organized roundtables, held in Dilijan and in Tsakhkadzor on November 19 and on December 11, respectively, allowed the Armenian criminal law community to discuss the findings. Representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Chamber of Advocates, Court of Cassation, Police Department, General Prosecutor’s Office, Yerevan State University and the U.S. Embassy attended the roundtables. Discussions covered international standards for pretrial detention and sentencing, alternatives to pretrial detention and incarceration, special approaches to sanctions for juvenile offenders and proposed reforms to the Armenian Criminal Procedure Code.

The Armenian legal community praised the assessment as an extremely useful tool, which provides a roadmap for criminal justice reform. ABA ROLI is also publishing handbooks of international standards on pretrial detention and on sentencing procedures in Armenian to provide the Armenian legal community with hard-to-find compilations of standards to guide detention reform.

The assessment was led by Washington, D.C.-based ABA ROLI criminal law and procedure experts, and supported by ABA ROLI’s Armenia local staff and by a working group on criminal detention reform, comprising Armenian criminal law experts Arthur Hovhannisyan, head of the Department for Eurointegration at the Ministry of Justice; David Khachaturyan, assistant resident legal advisor at the U.S. Embassy in Armenia; Anna Margaryan, assistant professor of law at Yerevan State University; and Ruben Melikyan, assistant professor of law at Yerevan State University and attorney for the Court of Cassation.

Click here to read the Detention Procedure Assessment Tool for Armenia.

To learn more about our work in Armenia or about our Detention Procedure Assessment Tool, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at <[email protected]>.