By Anna Saghabalian
The Armenian government has asked the Constitutional Court to curtail modest powers enjoyed by the country’s top human rights official after failing to push the highly controversial measure through parliament.
The Constitutional Court was scheduled on Wednesday to open hearings on a government request to declare unconstitutional a legal provision allowing Ombudsman Larisa Alaverdian to receive any documents from various-level courts. The first hearing was postponed until the beginning of next month.
The government and Justice Minister David Harutiunian in particular have already tried to have the National Assembly scrap the legal cause on the grounds that the ombudsman and her office are threatening the ostensible independence of Armenia’s courts. But the amendment did not even reach the parliament floor after being rejected by the assembly’s committee on legal affairs.
Its chairman, Rafik Petrosian, reaffirmed is opposition to the proposed change. “The human rights defender can not be isolated from the courts,” he told RFE/RL. “She overstepped her rights in some cases but that doesn’t mean that we must amend the law.”
Harutiunian, however, stood by his arguments. “We have submitted facts which we believe show an infringement on judicial independence,” he said.
Alaverdian strongly denies the government claims. She argued on Wednesday that most of the complaints received by her office from ordinary citizens deal with unfair rulings handed down by judges.
“The distrust which our public is showing toward our judicial authorities is based on objective facts,” she said. “Everyone knows that the judicial branch is dependent on the executive both by law and in real life.”
Alaverdian appeared in the Constitutional Court together with Andrzej Malanowski, a legal expert from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and a senior aide to Poland’s human rights ombudsman. “The ombudsman’s participation can in no way affect the court’s independence,” he said, adding that Poland’s ombudsman can not only request judicial documents but also speak in the court.
“Are our courts working effectively?” Harutiunian said. “Am I happy with their work? The answer is definitive: no.” But he claimed that the Armenian judiciary is becoming independent “step by step.”
Under Armenia’s existing constitution, virtually all judges are appointed and can be dismissed by the president of the republic. Harutiunian is believed to have considerable influence on their selection and subsequent work.
(Photolur photo: David Harutiunian.)