By Shakeh Avoyan
Larisa Alaverdian, Armenia’s first human rights ombudsperson who was relieved of her duties last month, said on Wednesday that she will press ahead with the publication of a new report which will likely be critical of the government.
Under an Armenian law on the human rights defender, the state official has to issue reports detailing their activities every year. Alaverdian, who had been appointed by President Robert Kocharian, had to step down on January 5 in compliance with Armenia’s newly amended constitution that mandates the ombudsperson’s election by parliament. She insists that she held the post in the course of last year and therefore has the right to report to the National Assembly.
“This human rights institution is strictly personalized and the law makes it clear that the report must be presented by the ombudsperson and not anybody else,” she told RFE/RL. “That is why I am preparing to present the annual report to the National Assembly and propose that it be heard at the first sitting [of its next semi-annual session].”
Alaverdian, whose two-year activities drew accolades from local human rights groups, already issued such a report last year. It criticized the Armenian authorities’ human rights record and in particular their 2004 crackdown on the opposition. The ex-ombudsperson believes that the document was responsible for the ensued deterioration of her relations with Kocharian and his government. She also claims that the prospect of a second report was the main reason why the authorities refused to let her continue to perform her duties until the election of the new rights defender.
In a controversial January 4 decree, Kocharian set up a caretaker commission tasked with managing the Ombudsperson’s Office in the interim. Alaverdian rejected the decree as unconstitutional and appealed to the Constitutional Court. However, the court refused to consider the appeal, saying that Alaverdian no longer holds office. The Kocharian-controlled National Assembly may well refuse to consider her forthcoming report valid on the same grounds.
In an open letter to parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian sent later on Wednesday, Alaverdian asked for a permission to address the assembly and present her report next week. Speaking to RFE/RL, she said she will send its copies to Kocharian, government members and parliament deputies anyway. “The law obligates me to release such a report and that’s what I’m going to do,” she said.
The parliament is expected to promptly elect Alaverdian’s successor after ending its winter recess on Monday. The strongest candidate for the job is Armen Harutiunian, Kocharian’s top adviser on constitutional law. Leaders of the parliament majority formally nominated Harutiunian for the post at a meeting late Tuesday.
The Armenian government heightened the controversy surrounding Alaverdian’s forced resignation on January 13 when it decided to suspend the work of the Human Rights Defender’s Office pending the election of a new ombudsperson. The government argued that nobody has the legal right to manage the agency’s staff in the interim, clearly contradicting the logic of Kocharian’s decree.
The move was criticized by about a dozen Armenian and Western human rights organizations which claimed that it reflects a “further decline in the respect for human rights and for the rule of law in Armenia.” “The removal of the Ombudswoman from office hardly hides what could be seen as a sanction against the efficiency of her work in dealing and highlighting fundamental human rights issues in the country,” they said in a joint statement released on Wednesday.
Also expressing concern was a Council of Europe body monitoring the fulfillment of Armenia’s membership obligations. In a separate statement, the Monitoring Committee said the authorities’ handling of the ombudsperson’s office “does not augur well” for democratization and respect for human rights.