- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 September 5 , 2003 

Lawful Protection: New session of Parliament debates Law on Human Rights

A collection of international agencies and non-governmental organizations met with Parliament this week to discuss Armenia's draft law on Protection of Human Rights.

Representatives of Parliament heard from the Human Rights Office of the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), International Union of Lawyers, Yerevan Press Club, Armenian Union of Journalists and others.

A statement presented by the Helsinki Committee of Armenia said the proposed law's suggestion to establish an Institute of Human Rights Protection (an ombudsman) is out of place, considering the Constitution.

"Taking into account the fact that the acting Constitution and legislation limit the order, nature and structure of creation of the Institute of Human Rights and limit possibilities of making it correspond to the internationally accepted standards of independence, we consider that establishing the Institute of Human Rights Protection in Armenia is anachronistic," the statement said.

The chairman of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia Avetik Ishkhanyan says the Institute will turn into something like a presidential committee on human rights because constitutional improvements haven't been adopted yet and the president of the republic still has a right to appoint an ombudsman.

"It seems to me that Armenian authorities are in a hurry to achieve several obligations (to the Council of Europe) and they don't care how they are going to do that as they want to demonstrate how loyal they are in the question of meeting their obligations," says Ishkhanyan.

The ombudsman would be the person to whom citizens could appeal if they felt their rights had been violated.

Coauthor of the draft law, Vice Speaker of the National Assembly Tigran Torosyan says that constitutional improvements will have been adopted within a year and this question will have been resolved.

(The current Constitution stipulates that the president would appoint an ombudsman. Proposed changes would yield that power to parliament.)

Council of Europe General Secretary's Special Representative in Armenia Natalia Vutova rejected the idea of postponing the law on human rights protection. (The human rights agencies' statement had suggested that the issue be postponed.)

"This is an obligation that Armenia has undertaken towards the Council of Europe and we cannot wait for constitutional improvements which can either be adopted or not," stated Vutova.

However the Special Representative emphasized the importance of having an independent ombudsman.

"Ombudsmen must be appointed in compliance with the standards of Council of Europe, OSCE and UN. There must be temporary solutions until the Constitution is improved so that this Institute could start functioning and at the same time being independent and trusted as much as possible for the citizens," said Vutova.

The draft Law on Human Rights Protection has passed through analyses of the Venice Commission (a special commission within the Council of Europe) and before the second National Assembly reading the draft had been substantially improved by additional development. Representatives of OSCE and Council of Europe agree with Tigran Torosyan's appraisal.

The draft was adopted during first reading of the last session of Parliament, following presidential elections. The draft proposes that Parliament must select an ombudsman by three-fifths vote.

Further, the draft gives the ombudsman power to bring a case for hearing at his own initiative.

The current Constitution calls for the ombudsman to report directly to the president. The draft says the person in that position would also report to the National Assembly and to ngos.

Vice Speaker Torosyan doesn't exclude the possibility of appointing a representative from any political force to that position.

"If that person enjoys great popularity of the society and if he is even a member of any political party then he will leave his party and will be loyal to the principles presented by law," Torosyan says.

The Vice Speaker says he has no doubt that the draft law will be adopted in next week's Assembly session.


According to Agnes
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Wooly work

Near her home in the center of Yerevan,Flora Sarkissyan, like many Armenian housewives after the season of sheep shearing, prepares wool that will provide warmth when a sunny September day is but a memory.



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