By Karine Kalantarian
Armenia’s human rights defender on Thursday admitted a number of ‘legal flaws’ in President Serzh Sarkisian’s executive order to set up a new, supposedly independent inquiry into the deadly post-election clashes in Yerevan, but said there was no legal occasion for challenging its constitutionality.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian said his office had scrutinized the document and revealed a number of aspects running counter to the country’s legal norms in the instruction by which the president commissioned a group of experts to collect key facts relating to the March 1 violence. But he added that in the given case as an official he was not empowered to contest it at the Constitutional Court.
“We have said from the very beginning and now we have made sure that it is a very controversial document, but I must say – and I think the legal aides of the opposition should also consider this – that the president’s executive order is outside constitutional control as the Ombudsman can challenge the constitutionality of only presidential decrees and only if they directly restrict basic rights,” Harutiunian explained.
According to Harutiunian, who also has a representative to the Fact-Finding Group of Experts, the legal problems existing with the document are unlikely to overshadow the group’s activities or fundamentally challenge the credibility of its report if the inquiry is conducted “at a professional level.”
President Serzh Sarkisian formed the Fact-Finding Group of Experts on October 23 after months of pressure from the Council of Europe and other international bodies distrusting the ongoing criminal investigation into the March 1 clashes. In an executive order, he offered the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the parliament’s sole opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) faction to appoint two of the five members of the group. The three other seats in the body were reserved for Sarkisian’s four-party governing coalition and the state human rights defender.
The Group is due to sumbit its findings to the parliamentary ad hoc commission that has conducted its own inquiry since June. The latter will then assess that information.
Eventually, the HAK and Zharangutyun agreed to send their representatives to the Group amid lingering questions over the credibility of the new inquiry.
In particular, former president and current opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian questioned the investigative body’s independence, downplaying the fact that the opposition and government camps will have equal representation in it. The opposition also fears the group will be “subordinated” to the parliamentary commission the activities of which both the HAK and Zharangutyun have boycotted on the grounds that it is controlled by pro-government lawmakers.
The new fact-finding group held its first meeting earlier this week electing the ombudsman’s representative to lead its activities.
In accordance with the presidential order, the group will not publish information about any of its current proceedings until it completes its mission. The experts on the panel will hold their meetings behind closed doors.
Harutiunian sees no problem with the lack of transparency in the group’s work.
“It is important that the Fact-Finding Group acts at a due professional level… Let’s trust them to carry on with the process so that they eventually can submit a maximally credible report,” he said.