Armenia’s new human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, has decided to reorganize a “rapid-reaction” team in his office that has been tasked with investigating urgent complaints from opposition groups and ordinary citizens.
In a statement issued late on Monday, Andreasian’s office said it will be disbanded and replaced by a new structure later this year.
The ombudsman’s spokeswoman, Mariam Barseghian, on Tuesday defended the decision against criticism voiced by human rights activists and opposition representatives.
“A rapid-reaction team did not really operate in the Office of the Human Rights Defender,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “There was only one person who answered phone calls until the end of the work day and had no technical equipment, car and obligation to stay at work after 6 p.m.”
Barseghian said Andreasian has formed a “working group” that will elaborate clear rules of conduct for the new team.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, critics dismissed this explanation, saying that the existing structure has frequently acted to stop human rights abuses committed by law-enforcement and other state bodies. Larisa Alaverdian, Armenia’s first ombudsperson who is now a parliament deputy from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, described it as “very important.” But she acknowledged the need for “improvements” in its activities.
Armen Khachatrian of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) was very critical of Andreasian’s decision. “I don’t know whether to be surprised, angry or to laugh,” he said.
Andreasian was elected as new ombudsman by the Armenian parliament last month. The 33-year-old lawyer’s candidacy was nominated by the parliament majority loyal to President Serzh Sarkisian.
Addressing the National Assembly before the vote, Andreasian said he regards human rights advocacy as “a service that must be provided free of charge.” He said that one of his first objectives will be to raise citizens’ awareness of the Office of the State Human Rights Defender and its powers.