The Republic of Armenia
Armenia has made considerable human rights progress since declaring its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Legal reform has affected criminal detention procedure and improved the independence of the judiciary. Ratification of the European Convention on Human Rights (2002), the establishment of a Public Defender’s Office (2004), and the adoption of a precedent-based legal system (2008) have helped protect the rights of criminal defendants. Ostensibly, Armenia’s Constitution and Criminal Procedure Code embody a comprehensive and robust approach to pretrial detention that is largely consistent with international norms.
The Armenian Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and its Criminal Procedure Code uniformly recognize a commitment to fundamental human rights and freedoms. Provisions related to pretrial detention are similarly laudable. Article 16 of the Constitution provides the legal framework for the rights of criminal defendants. Those substantive values are reflected throughout the procedural requirements enumerated in the Criminal Code.
General Status of Rights in Armenia
The rights of individuals entangled in the Armenian criminal justice system begin with those delineated in the Constitution. Article 16 limits the circumstances under which an individual may be apprehended and provides arrestees with foundational protected rights. The Republic must promptly inform the Detainee of the reasons for their arrest and the nature of any charges they face. A judicial order on pretrial detention must be issued within 72 hours by a court decision; such decision may be appealed to a higher court. Suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty, may not be compelled to testify against themselves, and are at all times entitled to humane treatment and legal assistance.
The Criminal Procedure Code provides additional traction on these Constitutional provisions. It reaffirms the 96-hour window during which suspects must either be released or detained, and sets forth the due process requirements that must be followed from the moment of an individual’s apprehension through the day of his trial. Courts are required to consider alternatives to pretrial detention and order its imposition only when necessary. Defendants have the right to appeal their detention, may be held for no longer than 12 months, and are entitled to humane treatment throughout.
Armenia is party to several international human rights treaties which are incorporated into its domestic legal system.
Unfortunately, compliance with these Constitutional, procedural, and international requirements are inconsistent and infrequent. Although it has been free of communist rule for nearly three decades, the Soviet-era legacy is pervasive and contributes to a criminal justice system that emphasizes detention, coercion, and assembly-line efficiency at the expense of individualized assessment and compliance with the law.
Suspects are often invited to police stations and encouraged to provide “witness” statements. They rarely invoke their right to legal representation, either because they are unaware of it or afraid of the repercussions. Physical coercion by law enforcement is reportedly widespread and commonplace.
Although courts are required to consider alternatives, pretrial detention is overwhelmingly a foregone conclusion and is almost universally extended upon the prosecutor’s request with little analysis or substantiation. Judicial decisions are frequently devoid of legal reasoning and untethered to the facts of a particular case. Appeals are seldom considered and in those rare instances in which they are not ignored, they are more than likely unsuccessful.
Domestic Laws Governing Pretrial Detention
Armenia adopted its Constitution in 1995 through public referendum. Article 3 recognizes as “ultimate value[s]” the “human being, his [or] her dignity, and fundamental human rights and freedoms.”
Articles 91 through 93 establish a three-tiered structure of courts and a separate Constitutional Court. The hierarchy of domestic legal sources is as follows: (1) the Constitution, which has supreme legal force; (2) laws, which must conform to the Constitution; and (3) other normative legal acts, which must conform with (1) and (2). Const. Art. 6. imparts that international treaties, once ratified, are incorporated as a constituent part of the legal system and their provisions prevail over conflicting domestic law.
Article 16 provides the domestic legal framework for pretrial detention and limits the circumstances under which an individual may be deprived of his liberty:
- When sentenced for committing a crime by the competent court;
- For failing to comply with a court order;
- To ensure the fulfillment of certain responsibilities prescribed by the law;
- When reasonable suspicion exists of commission of a crime or when it is necessary to prevent the commission of a crime by a person or to prevent his/her escape after the crime has been committed;
- To place a juvenile under educational supervision or to bring him/her before a competent authority;
- To prevent the spread of infectious diseases and other social dangers posed by mental patients, drug and alcohol addicts, and vagrants; and
- To prevent the unauthorized entry of a person into the Republic of Armenia, or to deport or extradite a person to a foreign country.
Anyone so detained must be “immediately informed” in a language that he understands of the reasons for his arrest and the nature of any charges he faces. A court must decide within 72hours of arrest whether to impose pretrial detention. If the court imposes pretrial detention, the detainee may appeal the decision to a higher court; otherwise the detainee must be released immediately. In the event a detainee is charged with a criminal offense, the individual may not be compelled to testify against himself and a presumption of innocence exists that such person is innocent until proven guilty, Const. Art. 22.
Const. Art. 18, and Const. Art. 20entitles detainees to “human[e] treatment and respect of dignity,” and legal assistance (provided by the state, if necessary), including the support of the Human Rights Defender (HRD). The HDR is an independent official responsible for protecting human rights and freedoms from violation by state or local officials. Const. Art. 83.1. The HRD’s contact information is provided below.
Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Armenia (CPC) (AL–248) (Sept. 1, 1998)
The Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) provides additional traction on the Constitutional provisions discussed above. Article 11 reiterates that “everyone has the right to liberty and immunity,” which may be infringed only in accordance with the procedures described below.
Apprehension and Filing of Formal Charges
Detention begins when a suspect is apprehended. An individual may be apprehended (1) when caught in the act of committing a crime or immediately thereafter, or (2) based upon a warrant issued by the body of criminal prosecution. CPC Arts. 128–130. (The “body of criminal prosecution” includes the investigator, prosecutor, and court. CPC Art. 6(30)).
Following apprehension, the body of criminal prosecution must issue a formal arrest protocol notifying the arrestee of his rights, including the rights to counsel, to know the charges against him, and the right against self-incrimination. CPC Art. 203.
Formal charges must be brought, and the court must decide whether to impose pretrial detention, within 96 hours of the detainee’s arrest. CPC Arts. 129(2), 130(3). If either does not occur within that timeframe the detainee must be released and may not be apprehended again for the same alleged crime. CPC Art. 132(1)(3), 132(3).
The decision to file charges is made by the prosecutor or investigator alone—judicial review of the factual bases for the charges is not legislatively required, although courts are required to review the factual bases for detention requests (see below). [Source: Case of Aslan Avetisyan, no. AMMVD/0022/06/08 (Court of Cassation) (Oct. 31, 2008)].
An individual suspected of a crime carrying a sentence of more than one (1) year, and who the court suspects might flee, obstruct the investigation, or commit further crimes, may be detained pending trial. CPC Art. 135.
Article 132(1) requires the court to release a detainee if either (1) the suspicion of his committing a crime has not been proven correct; or (2) it determines that there is no need for further detention, in which case it may order alternative preventive measures (discussed below).
Although the court must announce its decision in the presence of the suspect and provide him with a copy of the order (CPC Art. 136(3)), the hearing is neither open to the public nor its records subject to public review. CPC Arts. 283, 288; see also Judicial Code Art. 20.
Alternative Preventive Measures
The court may impose alternative preventive measures in lieu of formal detention. These include, for example, releasing the defendant on his signed promise not to leave a defined area, or releasing him on the personal guarantee of a “trustworthy person or legal entity.” CPC Arts. 134(2), 144–49.
When deciding whether to impose alternative preventive measures, the court considers: (1) the nature and the degree of danger of the incriminated action; (2) the personality of the suspect or the accused; (3) the age and the health condition of the suspect or the accused; (4) sex; (5) the occupation of the suspect or the accused; (6) their marital status and availability of dependents; (7) their property situation; (8) availability of a permanent residence; and (9) other relevant circumstances. CPC Art. 135(3).
The court may substitute detention with bail upon the defendant’s or prosecutor’s request or by its own initiative. CPC Arts. 134, 136. Bail is available only to those accused of committing a crime of “minor” or “medium” gravity. CPC Art. 143(1). “Minor gravity” crimes are willful acts punishable with no more than two (2) years of imprisonment, or negligent acts for which the punishment does not exceed three (3) years of imprisonment; “Medium gravity” crimes are willful acts for which the Criminal Code provides a maximum punishment of no more than five (5) years of imprisonment, or negligent acts for which the punishment does not exceed ten (10) years of imprisonment. Detention Procedure Assessment Tool for Armenia.
Length of Detention
Pretrial detention (which includes release on bail) may initially last no longer than two months, but may be judicially extended (in two-month increments) to six (6) months (for “grave” crimes) or 12 months (for “very grave” crimes). CPC Art. 138.
Extension requests must be submitted no later than ten (10) days before the expiration of the prior term; the court must render its decision no later than five (5) days before the expiration of the prior term. CPC Art. 139.
The total duration of pretrial detention may be no longer than the maximum term of imprisonment for the crime with which the detainee is charged, and, in any case, no longer than one year. CPC Art. 138(5). If a term expires without renewal, or if the one year limit is tolled, the defendant must be automatically released. CPC Art. 142(4).
Requirements During Detention
Detention is carried out at Confinement Places of Arrestees (CPAs), located within regional police stations and in a central facility in Yerevan. Detention Procedure Assessment Tool for Armenia. CPAs are responsible for protecting the health and security of pretrial detainees; promptly providing them with case documents; transporting them to court proceedings; and allowing them to meet with counsel confidentially and without limitation. CPC Art. 141. Detainee complaints must forwarded to the appropriate recipient(s) without examination or censorship within 12 hours of submission. CPC Art. 141.
Article 150 empowers both the defense and prosecution with the right to appeal an initial court’s imposition of preventive measures (pretrial detention or otherwise). Additionally, a defendant may file a complaint against any other “illegitimate or ungrounded” decision by the prosecutor or inquiry body under Article 290, which must be considered within ten (10) days. See also CPC Arts. 63(17), 150.
International or Multilateral Treaties Concerning Arbitrary Detention
Armenia’s Declaration of Independence expresses “the united will of the Armenian people” to “restor[e] justice” and proceed according to generally recognized norms of international law, including those embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Armenia became a member state of the United Nations in 1992 and has since acceded to thirteen human rights treaties. Those relevant to pretrial detention rights are discussed below. Click here for a complete list of international treaties to which Armenia is a member.
Article Six of the Constitution incorporates “international treaties [as] as constituent part of the legal system of the Republic of Armenia. If a ratified international treaty stipulates norms other than those stipulated in the laws, the norms of the treaty shall prevail.”
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
Armenia ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and joined the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations in 1993. Click here for Pretrial Rights International’s summary of pretrial detention rights under the ICCPR.
European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)
In 2001, Armenia joined the Council of Europe and ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). Click here for Pretrial Rights International’s summary of pretrial detention rights under the ECHR.
OSCE Copenhagen Document
Armenia is a participant in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and thus the Copenhagen Document. Click here for Pretrial Rights International’s summary of pretrial detention rights under the OSCE Copenhagen Document.
Case Examples / Practical Observations
Although the substantive, procedural, and international legal requirements discussed above are comprehensive and protective of criminal defendants’ rights, the Armenian criminal justice system, in reality, is not.
The American Bar Association’s (2010) Detention Procedure Assessment Tool for Armenia (“DPAT”) Penal Reform International’s (2012) Report on Pretrial Detention in Armenia (“PRI Rept.”), the U.S. Department of State’s (2013) Human Rights Report (“H.R. Rept.”), and the Public Monitoring Group of Police Detention Facilities’ (2010) Annual Report (“PMG Rept.”) provide valuable insight.
The Court of Cassation (Armenia’s second-highest court (Const. Art. 92)) has held that the rights guaranteed under the Constitution and the European Convention—including the right to be informed of the reasons for one’s detention, the right to counsel, and the right to remain silent—are triggered as soon as one is taken into custody. [Source: Case of Gagik Mikayelyan § 1, no. EADD/0085/06/09 (Dec. 18, 2009)]. Unfortunately, it does not appear that these procedures are being properly followed.
Police often delay formally arresting apprehended individuals to avoid the legal requirement to grant them the rights of “suspects.” H.R. Rept. at 11–12. According to PMG’s Report, one-third of detainees were held between four and 52 hours before being formally arrested. Individuals are often invited to the police station to provide a “statement” as part of an “investigation” and are unaware that they may decline to talk or invoke their right to legal representation because of the fear that they will be labeled as suspects or look guilty if they are accompanied by a lawyer. DPAT at 31, CPC Art. 86(10). The PMG’s Annual Report revealed that only 10.4 percent of those held in police detention (including those under formal pretrial detention) utilized the services of an attorney.
Investigators and police acknowledge that they often resort to “persuasive measures” to encourage cooperation; physical coercion is reportedly “widespread” and “commonplace.” DPAT at 31; H.R. Rept. at 11–12.
Pretrial Detention Due Process
Pretrial detention is a preventive measure meant to assure the appearance of the accused, and the CPC requires courts to consider alternative measures and impose it only when necessary. CPC Arts. 132–35.
In practice, however, detention is overwhelmingly a foregone conclusion. Prosecutors consistently request pre-trial detention and impose such without consideration of alternatives. H.R. Rept. at 12. Defense advocates note that detention requests are often “shoddy” and devoid of factual substantiation or legal reasoning. DPAT at 33. Coerced confessions and statements are heavily relied upon—many believe that this contributes to the widespread practice of police violence against arrestees. DPAT at 33.
Pretrial detention decisions are made in closed-door, confidential hearings, sometimes outside of the presence of defense counsel or even the defendant himself. DPAT at 16. Judges rarely explain their decisions, and detention is sometimes imposed even when the prosecutor provides no reasons for the request. DPAT at 16, 34–40; H.R. Rept. at 12–13. “It is widely perceived that . . . there is very little defense advocates can do to make an effective case for their clients’ liberty.” DPAT at 16.
The European Court of Human Rights has on several occasions found violations of Article 5, § 1 of the ECHR based on Armenian courts’ failure to consider alternatives to pretrial detention or explain the reasons for its imposition. See, e.g., Khachatryan v. Armenia, No. 23978/06, Eur. Ct. H.R. (2012); Malkhasyan v. Armenia, No. 6729/07, Eur. Ct. H.R. (2012); Muradkhanyan v. Armenia, No. 12895/06, Eur. Ct. H.R. (2012); Piruzyan v. Armenia, No. 33376/07, Eur. Ct. H.R. (2012); Sefilyan v. Armenia, No. 22491/08, Eur. Ct. H.R. (2012); Poghosyan v. Armenia, No. 44068/07, Eur. Ct. H.R. (2011); Asatryan v. Armenia, No. 24173/06, Eur. Ct. H.R. (2010).
Although defendants may appeal the imposition of pretrial detention (CPC Art. 150), courts frequently decline to review their motions, preferring instead to wait until the two-month increment has lapsed, when automatic review is required. DPAT at 41. When the motions are considered they are likely never granted. DPAT at 40.
On the other hand, in those few cases where detention requests are denied, prosecutors are more often than not successful in reversing the decision on appeal. DPAT at 40. And although detainees are required to be immediately released if a request is denied (see e.g., CPC Art. 132), several DPAT interviewees reported that defendants are frequently unlawfully detained during the pendency of the prosecutor’s appeal. DPAT at 40. For example, in Asatryan v. Armenia, No. 24173/06, Eur. Ct. H.R. (2010), pretrial detention was denied, and the defendant was held pending consideration by the appellate court, which reversed the lower court’s decision and ordered her continued detention. The European Court of Human Rights found that the failure to immediately release the defendant violated Article 5(1)(c) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Id. at ¶¶ 48–49.
Periodic Review of Detention
Although authorities generally respect Article 138(5)’s 12 month limit on total pretrial detention, the procedural requirements for renewal are often ignored. Once granted, detention is almost universally extended upon the prosecutor’s request, again with little analysis or substantiation behind the request or the court’s order. H.R. Rept. at 13; DPAT at 41.
The U.S. Ambassador to Armenia is Richard M. Mills Jr. Other important embassy officials are listed in the State Department’s Key Officers List. The Embassy maintains a list of Armenian attorneys who speak English and/or have expressed willingness to represent American citizens.
American citizens requiring urgent or emergency services should call 374 10 494686 (during business hours), or + 374 10 494444 (otherwise).
The U.S. Embassy is located at
1 American Avenue
Yerevan, Armenia 0082
+ 374 10 464700 (T)
+ 374 10 464742 (F)
Penal Reform International
Penal Reform International (PRI) is an independent non-governmental organization that develops and promotes fair, effective, and proportionate responses to criminal justice problems worldwide. PRI works with local organizations to bring about reforms that balance the rights of offenders and victims, and provides practical assistance to policy-makers and criminal justice authorities to reform legislation, policy, and practice. PRI’s South Caucasus office in Tbilisi, Georgia is particularly focused on promoting non-custodial sanctions and ensuring proper detention procedures in Armenia.
Penal Reform International
South Caucasus Office
Regional Director Tsira Chanturia
16 Kikodze Street
Tbilisi, Georgia 0105
+ 995 3220 5775 (T)
+ 995 3298 3560 (F)
Civil Society Institute
The Civil Society Institute (CSI) is a nongovernmental organization based in Yerevan which aims to assist and promote the establishment of a free and democratic Armenian society. It is committed to human rights advocacy and awareness, and recently concluded a two-year initiative to promote the effective use of alternatives to pretrial detention.
Civil Society Institute
16 Heratsi Street
Yerevan, Armenia 0025
+ 374 10 574317
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is one of the world’s largest intergovernmental organizations. Its office in Yerevan is heavily involved in human rights, rule of law, and policing initiatives.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
OSCE Office in Yerevan
64/1 Gabriel Sundukyan Street
Yerevan, Armenia 0012
+ 374 10 229610
Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia
The Human Rights Defender (HRD) is an independent Armenian Official charged with protecting Armenians’ human rights and fundamental freedoms from government encroachment. The Current Defender is Karen Andreasyan. Click here to read his biography, or here for an eclectic array of photographs depicting various HRD personnel.
Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia
56a Pushkin Street
Yerevan, Armenia 0002
+ 371 10 537651 (T)
+ 371 10 539448 (F)
Open Society Foundations Armenia
Open Society Foundations–Armenia is a local nongovernmental organization dedicated to the protection of Armenian democracy and human rights.
Open Society Foundations Armenia
7/1 Cul-de-Sac #2 off Tumanian Street
Yerevan, Armenia 0002
+374 10 533862
|Pretrial Detention and Bail in Armenia: 2007–2009|
|Pretrial Detention Requests Considered||2849||2915||3572|
|Pretrial Detention Requests Granted||2780
|Bail Requests Considered||81||443||484|
|Bail Requests Granted||62
|DPAT at 36.|
|Armenia Prison Statistics|
|Total Prison Population (including pretrial detainees)||3923 (as of Jan. 1, 2014)|
|Pretrial Detainees||1035 (26.4%)|
|Foreign Prisoners||125 (3.2%)|
|Roy Walmsley, World Pre-Trial/Remand Imprisonment List, International Centre for Prison Studies, 2d ed. (June 18, 2014) at 5.|
Pretrial Rights International has soft launched to begin helping pretrial detainees around the world. DISCLAIMER: We are constantly working to improve the content on this site. The material contained on this site is in beta form. It does not provide legal advice. If you need legal assistance, contact a lawyer.