By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia’s state human rights defender, Larisa Alaverdian, expressed on Wednesday her support for draft constitutional amendments that will be put to the referendum next month.
“I am not in a position to campaign for or against the amendments,” she told RFE/RL. “But if you ask me whether the amendments contain provisions which broaden a person’s capability to protect their rights, I will say yes.”
The most contentious of constitutional changes sought by President Robert Kocharian and his governing coalition concern a shift of powers from the Armenian president to the government and parliament. The Armenian authorities, backed by the Council of Europe, say they would put in place a more effective system of checks and balances. But their political opponents dismiss the proposed changes as cosmetic.
Alaverdian said she is only concerned with those provisions of Kocharian’s draft that deal with human rights. She singled out a provision empowering the human rights ombudsperson and ordinary citizens to appeal to Armenia’s Constitutional Court. Under the existing constitution, only the president of the republic, at least one third of parliament members as well as election candidates have such a right.
Alaverdian also pointed to another draft amendment that would restrict the president’s controversial authority to appoint and sack virtually all judges. The head of state would supposedly have no control over Armenia’s Justice Council which has the exclusive right to make judicial nominations.
The ombudsperson admitted that the proposed change can only “theoretically” make Armenian courts independent of the executive branch of government. “In practice, it will probably take a generation to end their dependence,” she said. “Having said that, this is at least half a step forward.”
Alaverdian also endorsed another amendment which would affect her directly. She was appointed by Kocharian in accordance with the current constitution. The amendment would transfer that prerogative to the National Assembly. Its enactment would require the legislature to either re-appoint her or name a new ombudsperson.