By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A key parliament committee rejected on Friday a government proposal to curtail the powers of Armenia’s top official in charge of human rights protection.
The National Assembly’s committee on legal affairs voted against stripping ombudsman Larisa Alaverdian of her right to have access to documents relating to various court cases. The government agreed later in the day to withdraw the draft amendment to Armenia’s law on ombudsman from the assembly.
Alaverdian, who is strongly opposed to the amendment, welcomed the decision. “I want to thank the committee for making the right decision,” she told RFE/RL.
The principal author of the proposed change, Justice Minister David Harutiunian, promptly left the parliament building after the committee vote, avoiding any contact with journalists. According to the committee chairman, Rafik Petrosian, Harutiunian told lawmakers that the measure is aimed at strengthening the independence of Armenia’s courts.
“Courts are already independent,” Petrosian said. “Nobody has the right to interfere in their work.”
Alaverdian, for her part, claimed that Harutiunian’s proposal, if approved by the parliament, would have left Armenian citizens “unprotected during trials.” “That’s what Mr. Harutiunian’s proposal is all about,” she said. “I can not agree with that.”
The draft amendment was discussed and approved by the government last month at a meeting chaired by President Robert Kocharian. Alaverdian, who was present at the meeting, complained afterward that Kocharian did not allow her to voice her objections despite her legal right to do so.
Armenia introduced the post of ombudsman last year as part of its obligations to the Council of Europe which cited the positive experience of many European nations. However, the move met with widespread skepticism, with human rights activists arguing that the ombudsman is appointed by Kocharian and therefore unlikely to be independent.
(Photolur photo: David Harutiunian.)