By Karine Kalantarian
President Robert Kocharian has nominated Armenia’s first-ever human rights ombudsman and is now awaiting the parliament’s non-biding opinion about the candidacy, his spokesman told RFE/RL on Thursday.
The official, Ashot Kocharian, said the Armenian leader has offered the job to Larisa Alaverdian, a member of a presidential commission on human rights.
Alaverdian is also the head of a non-governmental organization that has campaigned for the release of Armenian prisoners of war and civilians captured by Azerbaijan during the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. The group is also active in highlighting social and women’s issues in Armenia.
Alaverdian confirmed the information. She said she received the offer at a meeting with Kocharian on Monday.
The nomination stems from the Armenian law on ombudsman adopted last autumn under pressure from the Council of Europe which says the country needs a special official tasked with identifying and preventing widespread human rights abuses. The law, though endorsed by the council, sparked a controversy that centered on a provision allowing the president to appoint the official after “consulting” with the parliament factions.
Opposition politicians argued that a presidentially appointed ombudsman would be too dependent on the authorities and therefore unlikely to challenge government actions infringing on citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed rights. Their concerns were shared by over a dozen local civic groups that called for the proposed legislation to be put on hold pending the passage of constitutional amendments that would transfer the authority to pick the ombudsman to the National Assembly.
However, the authorities countered that constitutional amendments suggested by Kocharian do envisage such a change and that the parliament will be able to name a new ombudsman if those amendments are approved at a referendum.
Meanwhile, leaders of the parliamentary factions said they have not yet officially received any nominations for the post from the presidential administration. “The faction will express its opinion after it receives an official proposal,” said Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). He said the HHK will consult with its coalition partners before submitting a judgment.
The parliament’s largest opposition group, Artarutyun, decided on Thursday not to consider any candidacies in protest against the existing procedure for the ombudsman’s selection. “The consultations have a merely symbolic character,” one of its leaders, Victor Dallakian, said. “We therefore shouldn’t take part in this procedure.”