By Karine Kalantarian
The opposition Artarutyun alliance will urge parliament to reinstate Larisa Alaverdian, an increasingly outspoken government critic, as Armenia’s first human rights ombudsperson, it emerged on Tuesday.
Alaverdian formally ceased to perform her duties on January 5 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, is to be chosen by the National Assembly. Its mostly pro-government deputies are expected to elect Alaverdian’s successor shortly after returning from their winter recess next month.
“I make no secret of the fact that the Artarutyun faction will put forward Larisa Alaverdian’s candidacy,” one of the leaders of Armenia’s largest opposition grouping, Victor Dallakian, told RFE/RL. He described her as a victim of “government retribution.”
The announcement marks a dramatic turnaround in Artarutyun’s attitude towards Alaverdian. Dallakian and other lawmakers affiliated with the bloc snubbed Alaverdian two years ago when she was introduced to the parliament factions before being appointed ombudsperson by President Robert Kocharian. They as well as many civil society representatives were very skeptical about her ability to challenge the authorities.
However, Alaverdian proved unexpectedly vocal in identifying and decrying serious human rights abuses reported to her office. Kocharian, who controls the Armenian parliament, is therefore likely to oppose any attempts to have her reinstated. Especially after she denounced as unconstitutional a January 4 presidential decree setting up a commission that will run the Ombudsperson’s Office in the interim.
“The decree doesn’t contradict the constitution,” insisted Ara Tunian, head of a department on legal affairs at the presidential administration. Tunian pointed to Article 55 of the Armenian constitution which allows the head of state to form “consultative bodies.” The caretaker commission that took over the sacked ombudsperson’s staff can be considered such a body, he told RFE/RL.
But opposition leaders and lawyers critical of the government disagree. “The president of the republic has no authority to create such commissions,” said Dallakian.
“The constitution has certainly been violated because the president of the republic had no legal right to issue this kind of decree,” said Vartan Poghosian of the Democracy non-governmental organization. “He can issue decrees only in cases defined by law.”
Poghosian claimed that Kocharian’s decree also ran counter to Armenia’s separate law on ombudsperson. Under that law, it is the deputy head of the Ombudsperson’s Office who shall take the helm in the absence of the human rights defender.
Making similar arguments, Alaverdian asked Armenia’s Constitutional Court last week to invalidate the decree in question. The court may well refuse to even consider the appeal on the grounds that she no longer holds office. It will have to rule on the controversy if an appeal is filed by at least 26 of the 131 parliament deputies. But Artarutyun and another opposition group represented in the parliament together control only 23 seats.