An Armenian law bans any year-on-year reduction in the amount of budgetary funds allocated to the office as well as a number of other public bodies. The bill drafted by the Ministry of Finance and approved by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s cabinet as recently as on March 11 would abolish this clause.
The ministry has given budgetary and economic reasons for the proposed measure condemned by Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan and opposition parties as politically motivated.
Tatoyan has insisted that the bill runs counter to international standards and would effectively end his office’s independence from the government and the pro-government majority in the National Assembly.
“If the bill had been passed and led to a change in our current status, it would have meant an immediate drop in the country’s democracy indicators,” Tatoyan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service on Friday.
He suggested that the government decided not to push the bill through the Armenian parliament because of concerns voiced by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and Western human rights groups such as Freedom House.
“This new bill, if passed, will further constrain the independence of the [Human Rights Defender’s Office] and impede its mandate to protect human rights in Armenia,” Freedom House said in a March 12 statement.
The government has so far declined to comment on its decision to withdraw the proposed change. It is not clear whether the government plans to amend the bill or scrap it altogether.
Tatoyan has regularly criticized the current and former Armenian governments’ actions and policies since taking over as ombudsman in 2016. While the U.S.-educated lawyer has rarely faced public criticism from the current government, Pashinian’s supporters have attacked him on social media in recent months.