“The government has initiated a bill to abolish the independence of the ombudsman of Armenia from the government and the ruling faction in the National Assembly. From now on political bodies will be able to cut funding to the office of the ombudsman for issues raised by it,” Tatoyan said at a news conference over the weekend.
At its March 11 session, the cabinet of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian approved a decision that will abolish a provision in the constitutional law on the ombudsman stipulating that the ombudsman’s office cannot receive less funding from the budget than during the previous fiscal year. The Ministry of Finance said that the goal of the measure is to ensure the principles of unity in the budget system and the efficiency of the use of budget funds.
“This is an obviously unconstitutional bill. If this bill is adopted [in parliament], I will apply to the Constitutional Court to challenge its constitutionality,” Tatoyan said.
In a statement on Monday the government denied any political motives behind the bill. It said that it was first introduced and discussed in August-September 2020 – before a war broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh during and after which the number of applications to the ombudsman’s office from Armenian citizens increased dramatically.
Since then some leading opposition members criticizing the government’s handling of the war and the postwar period have, on the contrary, praised the ombudsman’s office as “the only working institution” in Armenia. The ombudsman himself, however, has clearly maintained political neutrality in his assessments of the actions of the government and the opposition pertaining to human rights.
Members of the parliamentary opposition factions today denounced the government’s move to cut funding for the ombudsman’s office.
On Saturday, the ombudsman’s office also responded to remarks by Pashinian’s spokesperson Mane Gevorkian, who told the state-run Armenpress news agency that Tatoyan was not invited to the government session because earlier he would send another person from his staff.
In a statement Tatoyan’s office stressed that attending government sessions is a right rather than an obligation of the ombudsman.
“For objective reasons, the Ombudsman was unable to personally attend several government sessions due to a sharp increase in the amount of work and complaints, frequent trips to the Syunik and Gegharkunik provinces, which are necessary to draw up reports for international organizations,” it said.