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Armenian Ruling Coalition, Opposition Divided Over Ombudsman

Armen Harutiunian

Armen Harutiunian

Representatives of Armenia's main pro-government and opposition parties have offered different assessments of the job performance of Armen Harutiunian, the country's human rights ombudsman, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Harutiunian was elected to a six-year term by parliament in February 2006 after being nominated by then-President Robert Kocharian, in whose administration he had worked as a senior legal adviser.

Kocharian said two years later that he regretted selecting Harutiunian after he criticized a harsh government crackdown on the opposition following the February 2008 presidential election.

Harutiunian also questioned the trials of opposition figures arrested in connection with the March 2008 clashes between opposition protesters and security forces that left 10 dead.

But in a dramatic change, Harutiunian largely endorsed the findings last year of an inquiry into the unrest that was conducted by an Armenian parliament commission. Dominated by pro-government lawmakers, the commission essentially defended the use of lethal force against supporters of Levon Ter-Petrossian, the main opposition presidential candidate.

Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), told RFE/RL that "we are happy in the sense that he is constantly attacked by both the opposition and the authorities...I like [his] work style."

But Karapet Rubinian, a senior member of Ter-Petrosian's Armenian National Congress (HAK), described Harutiunian's record as "unsatisfactory." He added that "the human rights defender should either resign and voice protest, or operate very actively...The fact that we have 15 political prisoners at the enough to evaluate the human rights' defender's office."

Other HAK leaders have criticized the ombudsman's work in even stronger terms.

Harutiunian, meanwhile, has insisted that he is politically neutral, denying opposition allegations that he has a pro-government bias. He told RFE/RL that "it's just that the ombudsman's approaches can coincide with those of pro-government forces in one case and with opposition forces in another case."