By Astghik Bedevian
Armenia’s new human rights ombudsman, Armen Harutiunian, said on Friday that he has asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of the controversial house demolitions in downtown Yerevan, essentially endorsing arguments made by opposition lawmakers.
The opposition Artarutyun alliance last week lacked one supporting signature by a parliament deputy to force court hearings and ruling on the matter which has been opposed by the government. The ombudsman, by contrast, can appeal to Armenia’s highest judicial body single-handedly.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Harutiunian said he used his legal right because he feels that the massive redevelopment going on in Yerevan has not been properly handled by the authorities. “It’s not about stopping construction of new buildings and restoring old ones,” he said. “There is simply a need for a special law that would specify in which specific cases property can be alienated. That is the main purpose of my decision to appeal to the Constitutional Court.”
“I am convinced that there is a problem with the conformity [of the government’s land allocations] with the constitution,” he added.
Armenia’s constitution stipulates that private property can be taken away only in “exceptional cases defined by law.” The construction process, however, has been regulated by government decisions only. Critics, among them Harutiunian’s predecessor Larisa Alaverdian, say it is therefore illegal, a charge dismissed by the government.
Alaverdian filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court shortly before her resignation in early January. Harutiunian appears to be more cautious in challenging the government decisions, saying that he did not ask the court to return the land to its previous owners unhappy with the amount of compensation paid by the state. “Their demands are a matter of compensation, not conformity with the constitution,” he said.
Harutiunian, who was President Robert Kocharian’s chief constitutional lawyer before being ombudsman by the National Assembly last month, claimed that by taking the legal action he has proved wrong those who questioned his commitment to combating human rights abuses in Armenia. “This shows that what we think of other people does not always proves to be correct,” he said.
Still, the ombudsman was rather vague about his activities, implying only that public attitudes are more of a problem than government actions when it comes to protecting human rights protection. “Armenia is a typical post-Soviet country in terms of its mentality, psychology and idea of human rights,” he said. “In this sense, there is a lot that needs to be done for human rights protection. It’s one thing to have something on the books and another thing to get people to understand it.”