Thursday, July 07, 2005

Armenian Human Rights Defender Online

A1 Plus reports that the web site of the Human Rights Defender of Armenia, more commonly knowns as the Ombudsman, is now online at The launch of the site comes at an interesting time with Larissa Alaverdyan, appointed by the President to the position in March 2004, coming under significant pressure to curb her powers.
In one case, the ombudsman highlighted a human rights abuse when the mayor of Yerevan auctioned off a plot of land that was still on valid lease, and the tenant’s rights had not been terminated. The mayor’s office described the ombudsman’s actions as “unconstitutional," and told her to stay away from property matters.

Alaverdian was similarly rebuffed by the legal department of the president’s office when she questioned the validity of government actions in a property dispute, when citizens’ property was forfeited and land was seized for the needs of two ambitious government construction programmes, the Northern Prospekt and Cascade in central Yerevan.

Stepan Safarian, an analyst with the Armenian Centre for Strategic and Ethnic Studies, believes that the Armenian authorities had expected their ombudsman to be more obedient and were now trying to make her so. “Whether the law was good or bad is beside the point. What matters is that Armenia got an ombudsman, who proceeded to insist on certain freedoms,” he said.

Safarian recalled how in April 2004, when an opposition demonstration was brutally dispersed by the police in central Yerevan, the ombudsman put the government in an awkward position by claiming its actions were unconstitutional and demanding an explanation from the president.

“The president appealed to the constitutional court because he did not like this new institution which could influence the routine, conveyor-belt administration of justice, making the outcome less predictable,” said Safarian.
Even so, the launch of the web site is a positive step. There's just one problem. Will citizens make appeals online when the security and confidentiality of the information they submit is now questionable? In fact, this is the case for any appeal against human rights abuses in Armenia, as Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reported yesterday. However, that's probably the least of the Ombudsman's problems at the moment.
Alaverdian faced another embarrassment shortly afterward when one of her employees was arrested on bribery charges. Immediately after the arrest the National Security Service (NSS) controversially raided the ombudsman’s office in Yerevan and confiscated its main computer that contained information on individuals filing human rights complaints. The information is meant to be strictly confidential under Armenian law.

Alaverdian publicly condemned the NSS actions at the time. She charged the authorities are seeking to tarnish her and her agency’s reputation in retaliation for its recent criticism of last year’s government crackdown on the Armenian opposition.
BTW: It's interesting to note that although the first Human Rights Defender in Armenia is a woman, rather than refer to her as the Ombudsperson, she is still referred to as the Ombudsman.

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