By Ruzanna KhachatrianLarisa Alaverdian, Armenia’s first human rights defender, asked the Constitutional Court on Thursday to invalidate President Robert Kocharian’s decision to appoint a caretaker body that will run her office pending the election of a new ombudsperson by parliament.
The move came as Alaverdian formally ceased to perform her duties in accordance with one of the recently enacted amendments to the Armenian constitution. It stipulates that the ombudsperson, until now appointed by the president of the republic, will have to be chosen by the National Assembly. But neither the amended constitution nor a separate law on ombudsperson specify just when that election should take place.
In a December 26 open letter to parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, Alaverdian argued that she should therefore be allowed to continue to perform her duties in the interim. Baghdasarian and other parliament leaders effectively rejected the demand, however.
Kocharian, meanwhile, set up on Wednesday an ad hoc commission that will manage the Ombudsperson’s Office until the election of its new head. The commission comprising the chief of the Constitutional Court and Justice Ministry staffs and the deputy head of the presidential administration took over the office affairs the next day despite strong objections from Alaverdian.
Alaverdian denounced the presidential decree as unconstitutional and said she submitted her arguments to the Constitutional Court. “The letter was drawn up yesterday, when I was still performing my duties,” she told RFE/RL. The court must therefore consider the appeal, she added.
Alaverdian also said her resignation will not prevent her from issuing an annual report on the ombudsman’s activities. Her previous report made public last spring contained a damning indictment of the Armenian authorities’ human rights record and their 2004 crackdown on the opposition in particular.
The report further strained her relationship with Kocharian and his government. Shortly after its publication officers of Armenia’s National Security Services raided the ombudsperson’s offices in Yerevan and temporarily confiscated its computers, ostensibly as part of a criminal investigation into a bribery case involving one of Alaverdian’s employees. The human rights defender condemned the raid as politically motivated.
Last September Alaverdian released another report that dealt with the forced evictions of hundreds of Yerevan residents whose old houses are being demolished as part of a controversial redevelopment going on in the city center. She believes that the process is unconstitutional because it is regulated by government directives, rather than the constitution and laws adopted by parliament.
Under the Armenian constitution, private property can be taken away by the state only in “exceptional” cases and with “commensurate compensation” defined by law.