Representatives of Armenia’s main pro-government and opposition forces gave on Monday differing assessments of the state human rights ombudsman Armen Harutiunian’s four-year track record in office.
Harutiunian was elected for a six-year term by parliament in February 2006. He was nominated for the post by then President Robert Kocharian, in whose administration he had worked as a senior legal adviser.
Kocharian publicly regretted his choice two years later, during the final weeks of his presidency, after Harutiunian criticized a harsh government crackdown on the Armenian opposition that followed the February 2008 presidential election. The ombudsman also questioned the ensuing trials of opposition figures arrested in connection with the March 2008 deadly clashes between opposition protesters and security forces that left ten people dead.
But in a dramatic about-face, Harutiunian largely endorsed last year the findings of an inquiry into the unrest that was conducted by an ad hoc commission of the Armenian parliament. The commission dominated by pro-government lawmakers essentially defended the use of lethal force against supporters of Levon Ter-Petrosian, the main opposition presidential candidate.
“I like the human rights ombudsman’s work style,” Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), told RFE/RL. “We are happy in the sense that he is constantly attacked by both the opposition and the authorities.”
But Karapet Rubinian, a senior member of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK), described Harutiunian’s record as “unsatisfactory.” “The fact that we have 15 political prisoners at the moment and that it’s been one year since disgraceful political trials have not been assessed [by the ombudsman,] is enough to evaluate the work of the human rights defender’s office,” he said. “It’s been definitely unsatisfactory.”
“The human rights defender should either resign and voice protest, our operate very actively,” added Rubinian. Other HAK leaders have criticized the ombudsman’s work in even stronger terms.
Harutiunian, meanwhile, insisted on his political neutrality and impartiality, denying opposition allegations of pro-government bias. “It’s just that the ombudsman’s approaches can coincide with those of pro-government forces in one case and with opposition forces in another case,” he told RFE/RL.