By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Ruzanna Stepanian
A legal advisor to President Robert Kocharian who is set to become Armenia’s new top human rights official indicated on Monday his intention to avoid the kind of challenges to the government that cost his predecessor Larisa Alaverdian her job.
Armen Harutiunian’s election as ombudsperson by the National Assembly appeared a certainty after the parliament majority loyal to Kocharian formally endorsed him for the post. The parliament vote is scheduled for Tuesday.
“We must form a civil society and only that will allow us to talk about defending and guaranteeing human rights,” Harutiunian said during a parliamentary discussion of his candidacy. “That means the human rights defender must not stand in between state institutions and point fingers at everyone and give lessons.”
The remarks were a clear jibe at Alaverdian who has been outspoken in decrying reported violations of Armenian citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed rights during her two-year tenure. Her relationship with the government became increasingly confrontational in the course of last year, culminating in a controversial government decision last month to suspend the work of Armenia’s Office of the Human Rights Defender pending the election of a new ombudsperson.
Harutiunian, who has advised Kocharian on constitutional matters for almost eight years and also heads a state-run public administration school, is expected to be far more cooperative with the authorities. His candidacy has been endorsed by the three pro-Kocharian parties represented in the government as well as the People’s Deputy group of non-partisan lawmakers loyal to the president. Together they control more than 81 parliament seats needed for appointing the new ombudsman.
“A new political situation has emerged since the referendum,” Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of the governing Republican Party, said as he nominated the lawyer. “We found it expedient to nominate Armen Harutiunian.”
The opposition minority in the parliament also put forward a candidate: former parliament deputy Ruben Torosian. But his chances of victory appeared nil.
The parliament leadership also reiterated its rejection of Alaverdian’s request to allow her to submit a report detailing her activities last year to the deputies. Alaverdian, who was relieved of her duties last month, insists that she has the exclusive right to draw up and publicize such a document, required by law, because she held the post in 2005.
However, speaker Artur Baghdasarian insisted that only a serving ombudsperson can do that. “We have neither a human rights defender, nor a report,” he told journalists. He also claimed that the report is meant to “present an institution’s, not an individual’s, activities to the National Assembly.”
Baghdasarian told the parliament later in the day that Alaverdian will only be allowed to address lawmakers and express her opinion on the new ombudsperson’s 2005 report. Alaverdian rejected the offer, reaffirming her plans to circulate her report this week. It is expected to be highly critical of the Armenian authorities’ human rights record.
Alaverdian already issued a similar report in April 2004 and believes it was responsible for the ensued drastic deterioration of her relations with the authorities and Kocharian in particular. “All of this shows that Armenian society is much better prepared for real democratic reforms than the current authorities,” she told RFE/RL on Monday. “The authorities have made it very clear that they are only concerned with defending themselves and their parochial interests against the defender.”