Rights advocates strive to promote judicial independence in Armenia

Eurasianet Organization
March 12 2004

RIGHTS ADVOCATES STRIVE TO PROMOTE JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE IN ARMENIA
Emil Danielyan: 3/12/04

Armenia’s judicial system is facing scrutiny from human rights
advocates, who assert that executive authorities continue to exert
undue influence over judges. Some non-governmental organization
activists are exploring ways to promote a greater degree of judicial
independence by making it more difficult for authorities to detain
citizens.

The lack of the judicial system’s independence is rooted in Armenia’s
post-Soviet constitution, which states that the president is “the
guarantor of the independence of the judicial bodies.” Such language,
in effect, gives the president the ability to appoint and dismiss
virtually all judges at will. Conversely, the constitutional
provision effectively intimidates judges into making decisions
designed to please incumbent executive branch officials, rights
advocates say.

Research conducted in 2002 by the American Bar Association’s Central
and East European Law Initiative rated Armenia negatively on 18 out
of the 30 indicators that comprise its Judicial Reform Index (JRI)
for formerly Communist nations. Eight of the 12 remaining criteria in
Armenia’s JRI were rated as “neutral.” Among the negative categories
were “judicial qualification and preparation,” “selection and
appointment process,” “adequacy of judicial salaries” and “judicial
decisions and improper influence.”

In comparing Armenia’s performance with other CIS states, the JRI for
Ukraine gave a negative grade for 12 of the 30 reform criteria. A
newly published report on Kyrgyzstan, meanwhile, gave negative
evaluations in 19 of the 30 categories.

“Bribery is a common problem, caused … by low judicial salaries,
mistrust of the judicial system and historical practice,” the Armenia
JRI stated. “Judges often get telephone calls from officials, parties
and `intermediaries’ in an attempt to influence their decision.”

“One lawyer stated that an appellate judge told him directly that he
could not resist the opposing pressure to decide [the case in
question] a certain way for fear of jeopardizing his professional
future,” the report added.

Opposition protests over alleged vote fraud during the presidential
election in 2003 underscored the judiciary’s apparent susceptibility
to executive pressure. [For additional information see the Eurasia
Insight archive]. A police crackdown on supporters of incumbent
President Robert Kocharian’s main challenger, Stepan Demirchian
resulted in up to 400 arrests. Many of the opposition detainees were
sentenced to up 15 days in prison on administrative charges for
participating in unsanctioned demonstrations. While in jail, most
opposition activists were denied access to lawyers and faced closed
trials in breach of Armenian law.

The post-election crackdown, which was denounced by the Council of
Europe and other international organizations, was carried out under
the auspices of Armenia’s Code for Administrative Offenses, a
Soviet-era relic that enables security agencies to briefly jail
people without probable cause. Human rights activists allege that the
administrative code has often been manipulated by authorities to keep
suspects in custody while cases against them are manufactured.
According to Avetik Ishkhanian of the Armenian Helsinki Committee,
courts, in such instances, merely act as “notaries,” effectively
recording the cases brought by police.

Human rights activists say one way to check executive influence over
the judiciary is to raise the standards by which prosecutors can
detain suspects prior to trial. Existing laws and regulations, along
with compliant judges, now make it easy to keep suspects in jail.
Official figures revealed, compiled by a local NGO, tell the story:
Armenian courts granted almost 97 percent of the 5,116 requests for
pre-trial detention filed by state prosecutors in 2003. In the vast
majority of these cases, rights activists contend, prosecutors did
not present evidence or make legal justifications in their detention
requests.

Ishkhanian, the Helsinki Committee activist, said that keeping
suspects in prison in Armenia is conducive to injustice and human
rights abuses. “It is always easier to extract confessions from
detainees than from those who are at large,” he told EurasiaNet in an
interview. “Law-enforcement bodies here continue to operate under old
methods.”

The pre-trial detention issue is currently the subject of in-depth
study by a Yerevan-based NGO, the Civil Society Institute (CSI). The
organization is examining detention centers across the country,
interviewing judges, law-enforcement officials and lawyers. The study
began in September 2003. The group is already lobbying for the
passage of legal changes that would establish tougher requirements
for arrest and detention.

“There are practically no justifications in arrest petitions
submitted by investigators,” says CSI lawyer Narine Rshtuni. “Nor do
they seek to prove that a particular individual will escape trial or
obstruct the investigation.”

Hrach Sarkisian, chairman of the Armenian Union of Judges, defended
the judiciary’s independence, claiming that most magistrates do not
bow to pressure from prosecutors or executive officials. He blamed
existing problems on shortcomings in the law, specifically the
framework for pre-trial detentions that allows for detention without
the presentation of evidence of any misdeed. Contradicting
Sarkisian’s claims, one judge quoted by a preliminary CSI study says:
“The courts will do a better job if the judges get real independence.
If the judges were independent 30 or 40 percent of arrest petitions
would not be approved.”

CSI chairman, Artak Kirakosian, expressed hope that Kocharian’s
administration will be receptive to reforming the country’s Code for
Procedural Justice along the lines recommended by the NGO. Kirakosian
pointed out that Armenia’s Council of Europe membership obligations
required further efforts to reform the judiciary. Other activists,
including Ishkhanian, are more skeptical, believing that Kocharian
wants to retain his administration’s influence over the judiciary.
“This [promoting an independent judiciary], as well as free
elections, is something that Armenian authorities will never do,”
Ishkhanian said. “Any judicial reform will be cosmetic. I’m quite
pessimistic on this issue.”

Editor’s Note: Emil Danielyan is a Yerevan-based journalist and
political analyst.

Georgian, Armenian Presidents Meet In Armenia

Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic
March 12 2004

Georgian, Armenian Presidents Meet In Armenia

Armenian President Robert Kocharian

Yerevan, 12 March 2004 (RFE/RL) — Georgian President Mikheil
Saakashvili arrived in Yerevan today on his first official visit to
Armenia, meeting with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and calling
for closer relations between regional neighbors.

“Naturally, I consider the South Caucasus as a single region. We have
close relations with Azerbaijan, but I think we should also develop
bilateral Georgian-Armenian relations. We are also developing
relations with our other neighbors, and in the end, as a result of
resolving many of the existing problems, including some profound
problems, this region must be integrated — both politically and
economically — in order to be successful.”

Kocharian said the two agreed at their talks today to meet often,
both formally and informally.

Saakashvili also said Armenia could help Georgia normalize its
relations with Russia, which have been complicated by the continued
presence of Russian troops and Russia’s support for Georgia’s
separatist regions.

Earlier today, Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned the new Georgian
government against trying to force its autonomous region of Adjaria
back under the control of Tbilisi.

Boxing: Hobson Puts British and Commonwealth Titles on Line

Boxing Talk
March 12 2004

Hobson Puts British and Commonwealth Titles on Line
By Curtis McCormick

March 12, 2004; Cruiserweight Mark Hobson headlines Ringside
Promotions big Saturday night fight card from the Huddersfield Sports
Centre in Huddersfield, England as he defends his British and
Commonwealth titles against opponent Tony Moran. In the main
co-feature Commonwealth Flyweight champ Dale Robinson challenges IBO
Super Flyweight king Jason Booth over twelve scheduled rounds. Also
on the card is former Commonwealth light middle champ Michael Jones
as well as prospects Kevin Anderson and Danny Wallace. Sky TV
broadcasts the action live in the UK on Sky Sports One starting 8PM.
Boxingtalk.com caught up with Mark and his trainer/co-manager Chris
Aston as they were preparing to defend both the British and
Commonwealth titles against a dangerous six foot seven opponent.

Mark Hobson returns to the ring for the first time since beating Rob
Norton this past September and in the process added the British title
to the Commonwealth belt he already owned. This time around Hobson,
21-3-1 (10), faces a tall order. Opponent Tony Moran is a six foot
seven inch cruiserweight and is on an eleven fight winning streak.
Hobson, six foot five himself, isn’t concerned however, despite
enduring the longest layoff in his seven year professional career.
“It’s been six months since I last fought but I’ve been in the gym,”
he said. “I was supposed to fight in December but had to pull out
with the flu after training a good four weeks. As soon as I knew this
one was on I was back in training straight away. I was never really
out of the gym anyway but the rest I took when I was sick probably
did me good. I feel fit, strong and I’m just ready to get in there.”

The man making sure the British and Commonwealth champion goes into
this fight in top condition, trainer and co-manager Chris Aston,
enlisted a variety of sparring partners to participate in Hobson’s
training camp and liked the results. “Everything has been superb in
regards to Mark’s preparation,” he said. “We’ve been sparring a kid,
Bagarat Ohanyan, who’s been boxing in the states. He’s had five
fights in Las Vegas, won them all, with four by knockout. He’s from
Armenia, was the world amateur champion and is a serious handful.
He’s a good fighter and a heavyweight so Mark had to keep it together
and box cleverly.”

“It was superb sparring but it wasn’t ideal for this fight to be
honest because Mark will be facing a guy six foot seven and Ohanyan
is about six foot two. I have two kids in the gym, Neil Dawson at six
foot five and an unbeaten cruiser, and Pinky Burton who’s fighting
for the British Masters Cruiserweight title, that were better suited
stylewise to preparing Mark to fight Tony Moran. So, we did get some
good sparring in plus real top quality work in with Ohanyan.”

Tony Moran, 11-2 (4), is a former British karate champion who’s won
his last eleven fights after losing the first two of his career. The
thirty year old from Liverpool is coming off of his biggest victory
to date, a fourth round stoppage over Matthew Ellis this past
October. Ellis was former British amateur champion at heavyweight and
is the only fighter on Moran’s resume to possess a winning record.
“I’ve never fought anyone taller than I am and with me at six-five
and Moran at six-seven, it’s probably the tallest cruiserweight fight
in history (laughs),” said Hobson. “It’ll be a puzzle to solve but
I’m looking forward to it. I want to keep pressure on him from behind
a strong jab, keep him on the back foot, be aggressive and make him
work. I don’t think he’s been past six rounds before and it may take
a couple of rounds until I figure him out but at some point I will.
I’m going to go after him from the first round on and if he makes it
into the later rounds, fair enough, but at some point I’ll land some
of my bigger stuff and hurt him.”

The cruiserweight division is one of the more competitive in Britain
today as three main figures have stirred the imagination of fight
fans across the country. “I want Mark to go out and dominate Moran,”
said Aston. “He’s a double champion and I want him to make a
statement because in this country they tend to be talking about David
Haye and Enzo Macarrinelli alot and I think Mark is the better
fighter out of the three. We sparred with David Haye and
Maccarinelli, I’ve seen one or two chinks in his armor already. He’s
a bit left hand happy and his chin looks suspect, as does Haye’s.”

“These guys all have weaknesses and Mark is a hard enough puncher
with the right hand to get respect from anybody. He had Rob Norton
down three times and he’s still the only fighter to have ninety four
fight veteran Paul Bonson down on the canvas. The fight I really want
for Mark, though, is against Carl Thompson for the IBO title. I think
that would be the perfect fight for Mark and I’m hoping that his
promoter Barry Hearn and manager Tommy Gilmour can put something like
that together.”

Mark Hobson earned his titles the hard way and has no intention of
letting anyone share the top of the hill. With a fight against WBO
champion Johnny Nelson a long shot due to competing promotional
outfits, as well as Nelson likely being at the twilight of his
career, Hobson knows that his main competition will likely come from
Haye, Maccarinelli and Thompson. “I think that David, Enzo and Carl
are all fantastic punchers and good boxers but I don’t think they can
take it as good as they can give it,” he said. “It remains to be seen
but Haye was definitely knocked out in the amateurs by a guy I
certainly wouldn’t say was fantastic. Maccarinelli was knocked out as
a professional and so was Thompson, so the writing is on the wall.”

“I don’t know if I’ll end up fighting any of them, because there’s so
many different factors and roadblocks involved. There’s a lot of
water that has to flow under the bridge before those fights are going
to happen. I’m just going to concentrate on this fight against Moran
because there’s no point in me saying I want to fight Carl Thompson
next if I go out and lose this one. I want to make sure I win on
Saturday night and look good doing so. If I keep doing that the big
fights will come anyway. All you have to do in boxing is keep winning
and it all will come to you.”

Boxingtalk.com would like to thank Mark Hobson, Chris Aston and John
Wischhusen for making this article possible.

CIS “Defense 6” supports joint efforts by int’l community v terror

RIA Novosti, Russia
March 12 2004

THE CIS “DEFENCE SIX” SUPPORTS JOINT EFFORTS BY THE INTERNATIONAL
COMMUNITY AGAINST TERRORISM

MOSCOW, March 12 (RIA Novosti) – Nikolai Bordiuzha, Secretary General
of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO: Russia,
Byelorussia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kirgizia, Tadzhikistan) supports
joint efforts by the international community against all
manifestations of terrorism.

“International terrorism has committed another crime – this time
against the inhabitants of Madrid. The tragedy of March 11, like the
events of September 11, 2001 in New York, like terrorist attacks in
Asia, confirms that every terrorist action is a link of a single
chain” – Bordiuzha pointed out in his statement concerning the bloody
attack in Madrid.

According to him, international terrorism can re-form swiftly and it
is ready to deal one blow after another in any region of the globe.

“To oppose this evil the international community must unite its
efforts, create the atmosphere of aversion and intolerance to
terrorism in any of its forms and manifestations” – the CSTO General
Secretary emphasized.

Bordiuzha reminded that the Collective Security Treaty Organization
had “made repeated statements in support of a concerted effort by
states and international organizations in order to give an adequate
repulse to terrorism and extremism”.

“We confirm the CSTO’s unchanged readiness to make a constructive
contribution to the struggle against terrorism” – Bordiuzha said.

Russian nationals in Armenia to vote at presidential elections

RIA Novosti, Russia
March 12 2004

RUSSIAN NATIONALS IN ARMENIA TO VOTE AT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

YEREVAN, March 12, 2004. (RIA Novosti) – Ten polling stations will be
open in Armenia for Russians wishing to vote at the Russian
President’s elections on March 14, the Russian Embassy to Armenia
said on Friday.

Two polling stations will be open in Yerevan (one in the embassy and
the other in the Kanaker military camp where a Russian military unit
is deployed).

There will be five polling stations in Gyumri (three at the 102nd
Russian military base, one in the Consulate General and one at the
headquarters of the Russian Federal Security Service border guard
detachment). Three polling stations will be open in Armavir, Artashat
and Megri where Russian border guards are deployed.

According to the Russian Embassy, about 8,000 Russian nationals
living or staying in Armenia will be able to vote at the elections.

The voting will take place from 8.00 a.m. until 8.00 p.m. local time.

Armenia can help Georgia’s relations with Russia

RIA Novosti, Russia
March 12 2004

ARMENIA CAN HELP GEORGIA’S RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA

YEREVAN, March 12, 2004 (RIA Novosti) – Georgia is trying to improve
its relations with Russia today, and Armenia can promote this process
because it has close and friendly relations with Russia, Georgian
President Mikhail Saakashvili said in an interview with the Second
Channel of the Armenian television and the Azg newspaper before his
departure for Armenia.

“We have long-standing ties and a common historical background with
Armenia. Besides, Armenia is the most acknowledged country of the
region. Armenia has maintained friendship with the West and Russia
for many years. All this should serve the interests of the entire
region,” the Georgian president said.

At the same time, Mr. Saakashvili stressed that Georgia was ready to
take an active part in the establishment of effective relations
between Armenia and Turkey.

In his opinion, Turkey is well aware that relations with Armenia
should be developed for the sake of peace in the region.

“I think not only Armenia can promote relations between Georgia and
Russia, but Georgia as well can assist Armenian-Turkish ties,” said
Mr. Saakashvili.

The Georgian president will visit Armenia on March 12-13.

Georgia poaches foreign minister

Sydney Morning Herald
March 12 2004

Georgia poaches foreign minister

President Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia has chosen France’s
ambassador in Tbilisi to be his foreign minister, saying he had
cleared the appointment with the French President, Jacques Chirac.

Mr Saakashvili said Salome Zurabishvili, a descendant of a
19th-century Georgian writer, Niko Nikoladze, was a diplomat of
international standing whose family had migrated to France early in
the 20th century.

He told a news conference on Thursday that he believed the
appointment was “unprecedented in the history of diplomacy”.
Diplomats are normally expected to remain loyal to their own country
and not take up jobs in foreign governments.

He said he would grant Ms Zurabishvili, 51, Georgian citizenship in
addition to her French passport, a dual status the constitution
allowed in special circumstances.

Ms Zurabishvili has worked in the US, the European Union and NATO and
headed the international department of France’s national security
general secretariat until taking up her post in Georgia.

After the fall of communism many people whose families had migrated
to Western Europe and the US returned to their eastern European
roots. An American lawyer, for instance, served for a short time as
foreign minister in Armenia in the 1990s.

Mr Saakashvili, 36, is a US-trained lawyer who led a bloodless coup
in November that brought down the veteran leader Eduard Shevardnadze,
a former Soviet foreign minister.

Mr Saakashvili won a landslide election victory in January and
promised to integrate the republic into NATO, the EU and the European
mainstream.

Almost everybody who went to the polls voted for him, after he had
led what he called the Rose Revolution – the peaceful removal of Mr
Shevardnadze from the presidency after 12 years.

The young new president can answer questions in rapid-fire English,
Russian and French as well as Georgian.

Georgian armenians take part in Iranian armenians spring games

IRNA Iran
March 12 2004

Georgian armenians take part in Iranian armenians spring games

Isfahan, March 12, IRNA — Head of Isfahan`s Ararat Sports Club
Robert Shyjanian told IRNA of Friday the the Georgian armenians will
take part at the 13th Athletic Competitions of the Iranian armenians.

Shyjanian added, “The Georgian armenian athletes will participate
with one five-member team at the Iranian armenians` spring games,
competing only in track and field competitions.”
The five-day 13th Athletic Competitions of the Iranian armenians,
sponsored this year by Isfahan`s Ararat Sports Club will begin on
March 18th.
The games, also known as the Iranian armenians spring athletics,
are held in two main sections of men and women`s athletes, in which
the athletes compete in football, basketball, field and track,
volleyball, and table tennis contests.
The men`s games include football, basketball, table tennis and
field and track events, and the women`s games include basketball,
volleyball and field and track competitions.

NGO presents Torture prevention and victims rehab in Georgia

Batumi News, Georgia
March 12 2004

NGO presents `Torture prevention and victims rehabilitation in
Georgia’

The NGO `Ex Political Prisoners for Human Rights’ presented the EU
financed project on `Torture prevention and victims rehabilitation in
Georgia’.

N. Kakabadze, leader of the organization, told journalists the
project stands as more significant presently than it was during the
forerunning Govt.

When we were working on the project it was very up – to time and of
paramount importance.

The outlook of the recent developments makes it stand as even more
important. Presently, the torture cases have take shape of a routine
and frequency exceeds indices for 2003, Kakabadze said. Kakabadze
said the organization’s watchdogs visited the pre-trial detention
cells, and held seminars for policemen. The watchdog reported on the
torture cases, bringing instances over 20 unwarranted acts of the
policemen.

Kakabadze points to the absence of fundamental human rights’ defense
basis in Georgia; absence of the adequate political, social and
psychological environment and commitment to the task to reach the
strategic goals: to have the independent and unbiased court, NGO-s –
free from prejudice, and to uproot venality among state officers,
power avidity among high ranks, oppression of the independent mass
media and social assistance to the poverty – stricken state.

Leader of the NGO laid stress to the dramatic dwindle of the number
of NGO-s is dwindling.

“NGO-s are either politicized or keep indifference. Georgia had
better image compared with Azerbaijan and Armenia with its freedom
and independence of the NGO activities; We can not boast the same
however’, – Kakabadze said.

Kakabadze pointed to the cases of independent media oppression:
`Banning programs in various TV companies which were tribunes for
democracy is diminishing of independence rate”- Kakabadze warns.

Saakashvili arrives in Armenia

ArmenPress
March 12 2004

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ARRIVES IN ARMENIA

YEREVAN, MARCH 12, ARMENPRESS: On March 12-13, 2004, the President
of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili paid an official visit to the Republic
of Armenia by an invitation extended to him by the President of
Armenia Robert Kocharian. The delegation of the Georgian president
consists of Georgian ministers for energy, infrastructures and
development, members of Georgian parliament, representative of
Georgian president in Javakheti province, other officials, reporters.

After a ceremony of greeting, held at the residency of Armenian
president, the private conversation between the two presidents was
held, which was followed by the enlarged Armenian-Georgian
negotiations.
The Presidents of Armenia and Georgia noted the high level of
relations between Armenia and Georgia, which are based on the
centuries-old friendship between the Armenian and Georgian people,
reported the press office of the Armenian president. During the
negotiations, the sides discussed the current state and the future of
the bilateral relations, as well as some current international and
regional issues of mutual interest. The Presidents of Armenia and
Georgia reiterated their determination to continue to strengthen the
friendly relations and to develop mutually beneficial cooperation
between the Republic of Armenia and Georgia.
The parties noted that the large number of existing bilateral
agreements and documents is aimed at deepening the mutually
beneficial cooperation across the whole spectrum of bilateral
relations. Both presidents of Armenia and Georgia expressed
satisfaction with the fact that, during the visit, they exchanged the
ratification documents of the October 23, 2001 Agreement on
Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Security between the Republic of
Armenia and Georgia, thus reiterating Armenia’s and Georgia’s desire
to provide a fresh impulse to the further development of extensive
cooperation and friendly relations based on mutual respect and
consideration for each other’s interests.
Having emphasized Armenia’s and Georgia’s commitment to
integration with European institutions, the parties noted the need
for closer cooperation in their relations with the European Union, as
well as within the framework of the UN, the Council of Europe, the
OSCE, the CIS and other universal and regional international
organizations.
The Presidents of Armenia and Georgia reiterated their readiness
to cooperate more actively within the framework of the Black Sea
Economic Cooperation organization and noted the importance of closer
cooperation in various regional initiatives, such as TRACECA and
INOGATE.
Taking into consideration the obligation to address various modern
challenges and threats, such as international terrorism, organized
crime, weapons and drugs trafficking, the sides noted the need for
increasing the effectiveness of bilateral and multilateral
cooperation and coordinating the joint efforts in those areas. The
presidents noted that it is possible to create a favorable climate
for resolving the conflicts in the region by deepening the regional
cooperation and bridging the interests of the countries of the
region. They reiterated once again their commitment to the principle
of non-interference with each other’s internal affairs, mutual
respect for self-rule, territorial integrity and inviolability of
borders, as well as respect for basic human rights and liberties.
The Armenian side expressed confidence that the constitutional
changes, the reforms in the Executive and Legislative branches of
power and the March 28, 2004 parliamentary elections in Georgia are
aimed at strengthening the democracy and stability and ensuring
economic development in Georgia, which is not only in Georgia’s
interests, but also in the interests of Armenia and the region as a
whole. The Parties noted the special role of the high-level
Armenian-Georgian political dialogue in ensuring the dynamic and
constructive nature of the bilateral relations. Kocharian and
Saakashvili emphasized the importance of continuing to strengthen the
inter-parliamentary ties, and noted the need for deepening the
bilateral ties on all levels. They noted the need for regular
consultations between the executive and legislative branches of power
in both countries.
The sides noted the need to make the work of the Armenian-Georgian
intergovernmental committee on economic cooperation more active, and
expressed confidence that the committee’s productive work would
promote bilateral trade, cooperation in various sectors of the
economy and mutually beneficial cooperation in transport and
communication programs, in tune with international standards and
economic realities. The parties reiterated the need to continue the
work on demarcation of the state border between the Republic of
Armenia and Georgia.
The visit took place in a constructive, cordial and friendly
atmosphere. The President of Georgia expressed his gratitude to the
Armenian side for the constructive dialogue and hospitality, and
invited the President of the Republic of Armenia to pay an official
visit to Georgia at any convenient time.