A recent decision by Armenia’s highest court promises to advance the right to equal justice for people with disabilities in Armenia.
In 2015, Artur Hakobyan, a then 18-year-old military conscript reported that a military commander physically abused him on several occasions during his mandatory service. Hakobyan alleges that on one occasion, the commander dragged him by his ear and hit him in the neck when he refused to water trees on the military base. But after hearing the testimony of the commander and other soldiers, the investigator quickly closed the investigation.
Relying on a provision in the criminal procedure code that precludes testimony from persons “not able to perceive correctly and reproduce the circumstances,” investigators and prosecutors dismissed Hakobyan’s testimony because of his psychosocial disability (mental health condition) after doctors had determined he was such a person. His appeals through the lower courts were dismissed on the same grounds.
But now Armenia’s Cassation Court has ruled investigators and courts must hear and consider the testimony of persons with mental health conditions, and they cannot ignore testimony based exclusively on medical examinations of a person’s mental health.
In May 2017, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities reviewed Armenia’s compliance with its treaty obligations to people with disabilities and called on the government to ensure people with disabilities can participate in legal proceedings on an equal basis with others. This would include providing accommodations to facilitate their involvement, such as arranging information in easy to read and other accessible formats, physical accessibility, and legal aid, where applicable.
Armenia’s constitution and laws recognize the principle of equality before the law. But as Hakobyan’s case shows, in practice this is not always the experience of people with disabilities. Armenian law also allows people with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities to be deprived of their legal capacity, meaning a guardian makes choices for them and represents them in court. There is no legislation requiring authorities to provide reasonable accommodations in judicial processes.
Stigma and stereotypes about people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities also can interfere with access to justice. Armenia has yet to adopt a comprehensive law prohibiting discrimination including against people with disabilities.
This court ruling should signal that all of this needs to change so that people with disabilities can get the fair treatment and equal justice that everyone deserves.