Armenia’s mediation system was established in 2015. A set of mediation laws was enacted regulating in-court and out-of-court mediation. The main features of these laws were as follows: 1) the court had an obligation to inform the parties about the possibility of mediation in every civil, labor, and employment dispute, 2) the first four hours of mediation were provided free of charge, 3) if the dispute settled, the parties were able to receive a refund for half of the paid court fees, and 4) parties could enforce an out-of-court settlement agreement approved by a certified mediator through a court, within six months of the settlement.
Following the passing of the laws, over 50 mediators were trained and certified by the Ministry of Justice. During 2015-2016, a few court-annexed mediation programs were initiated at first instance courts of the capital, Yerevan. They were successful in generating over 25 cases, most of which settled. However, these mediation programs only served as a lighthouse in a dark ocean, and did not lead to an institutionalization for two main reasons: 1) lack of awareness of mediation among the general public, and 2) inability of certified mediators to fully commit to mediation for financial reasons.
At the end of 2016, certified mediators established a mediation association, a single institution entitled to regulate certified mediators’ conduct and certain aspects of a mediation process. The law envisaged an establishment of only one association and required that all certified mediators be part of the association. Unfortunately, the association did not serve as a catalyst in furtherance of mediation in Armenia. Although certain rules and ethical guidelines were passed, the number of genuine mediation cases continued to be limited.
Within a project initiated by the Council of Europe, a new mediation law has been drafted and is being discussed in Parliament. Although the law aims at promoting mediation development, it does not include new tools or incentives to stimulate significant progress. The new law merely incorporates most provisions of prior mediation laws.
While there is no promise of significant mediation development on the part of the legislature, the new government’s programs could be promising for alternative dispute resolution, particularly for mediation. The government is actively engaged in generating new foreign investments. One of four key priorities is the field of high technology. This will naturally lead to creating adequate dispute resolution mechanisms for foreign investors. In this context, mediation is quite appealing, given the Armenian culture of negotiations and deal making, as well as the wide range of benefits that mediation could provide to litigants under Armenia’s existing legal framework.
Moreover, Armenia is ideally placed geographically to serve as a dispute resolution hub in the Euro-Asia Economic Union, which includes: Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan. International dispute resolution centers should carefully analyze Armenia’s potential and consider opening a branch to serve clients from the Euro-Asia Economic Union, with a broader eye on the post-Soviet Union region.
By Mushegh Manukyan, Senior Fellow-Armenia, Weinstein International Foundation