Friday, 25 April 2008

Armenia Ombudsman's Ad-hoc Report on Election and Post-election Situation in Armenia

Short Summary of RA Ombudsman's Ad-hoc Report on Election and Post-election situation in Armenia

25 April 2008

The 2008 presidential elections and post-electoral developments have immensely influenced on the entire system of protection of human rights. The main objective of this Ad-hoc Report /hereinafter report/ is a comprehensive analysis of pre and post-electoral developments.

The first part of the report illustrates dynamics of transformation of socio-psychological environment and main causes of its formation whereas receiving objective information on electoral processes was impossible.

The second part of the report is devoted to the election’s day environment and analysis of legislative grounds leading to its formation. The third part reveals peculiarities of post-electoral developments. Part four presents activities of the Human Rights Defender in regard with reinstituting of human rights during the post-electoral period.

In the course of examining presidential election developments, the report, indeed, specifies many objective problems leading to the formation of pre and post electoral situation in the country, particularly rising resentment in a considerable part of the society. In fact, many of these problems were described in the Defender’s Annual Report of 2006, the conclusions of which, regrettably, remained out of attention of authorities.

The cornerstone of the report is qualitative modification of resentment of a considerable part of society through biased form. Particularly, the noticeable social and economic polarization, mistrust towards public and law enforcement bodies, overcentralization of power, ineffective mechanism of checks and balances between three branches of power, insufficient guarantees of human rights, formation of a tightly closed system of privileged group drove a significant part of society to seek critical and dramatic changes to solve these issues. Eventually, a demand of extremist activities was formed in a considerable part of society. In this situation a number of political forces have provided an adequate offer, which intensified intolerance and polarization in the society.

The report refers to the aforementioned issues from the perspective of human rights, freedom of speech and freedom of information. The objective of the report is firstly to emphasize restriction of freedom of speech for one part of the society /the opposition/, existence of unrestricted opportunities for the other part /the government/ including unlawful use of different power tools resulting itself in restriction of human rights, and secondly that it may offer “ill services” to the users themselves on the rebound.

Spiritual and material values in the society should be balanced and coexist in harmony. From this point of view one does not consider the opposition strategy being mostly focused on social concerns of a considerable part of population, deplorable human rights records, shortcomings in public administration, etc., instead of prioritizing economic development-related issues, such as construction of tunnels, highways, elite buildings. A number of state representatives were more enthusiastic in terms of material values while the opposition rearranged the strategy within political and intellectual values (civil freedoms, dignity, justice, equal rights).

Division of society into privileged “insiders” and the rest formed tightly closed system in the country, where democratic principles of governance were of artificial nature. These hampered the course of political struggle under the rule of law. Meanwhile, the opposition adopted the same extremist policy aimed at polarizing the society into “us” and “them”- “beguiled”. The extremist policy of one part of government and a part of opposition generated March 1-2 events inflicting the society to suffer. Thus, the society shall enjoy the right to demand political elite (government and opposition) to ensure absolute respect for human rights and tolerance shall prevail in the society.

The change of ruling political forces through elections, the exchange of roles between ruling and opposition forces is a key indicator of democratic development and an effective safeguard of socio-political stability. If the opposition forces are deprived of possibilities to replace the incumbent authorities through free and fair elections, and the authorities are democratic insofar as it secures their “normal” reproduction, then extremism in the political struggle cannot be avoided.

Constitutionalism is a limitation of the power, which precludes situations in the political struggle, when the winner assumes all political, economic, and social control, while the defeated side loses any possibility of survival. This is the type of situation that pushes sides
into a “life-or-death” struggle, laying the ground for the emergence of authoritarian and totalitarian political regimes.

The newly-elected President and the new system of government inherited a heavy burden from their predecessors. It would have been preferable to avoid it, but it could not be done, and now, everyone must now come together to overcome this situation.

The following issues have to be resolved in order to address this situation:

1. To ensure that the authorities function in a framework of public accountability, and to secure a strong opposition: this is the only case in which the authorities will no longer be able to subordinate society to their will. As a result, the opposition will not have to go to the streets, because they will be able to voice their concerns through legal and political means.

2. To reform the electoral legislation: in particular, it is necessary to revise the Electoral Code provisions on the formation of electoral commissions, the recount procedures, etc.

3. To safeguard the freedom of expression and to put in place conditions for pluralism and impartiality in the electronic media. Without pluralism, society cannot be free, and the authorities will not exercise self-restraint. To this end, it will be essential to reform the legislation on television and the radio. It is also necessary to ensure equal participation of the representatives of the power and the opposition in the formation of television and radio regulatory and supervisory bodies.

4. To rule out laws groundlessly restricting human rights and freedoms (such as the recent amendments to the Republic of Armenia Law on Conducting Meetings, Assemblies, Rallies, and Demonstrations).

5. To safeguard the constitutional principle of equality of rights and to eliminate existing economic monopolies, which will help to overcome the oligarchic system of governance. This is the only way to enable people to realize their creative potential. As a result, society will no longer demand political extremism, and political forces will no longer generate such supply. Extremist ideas are born out of an extremely polarized society. If society is not polarized, no extremist idea can activate the broad masses.

6. To fight against causes, rather than consequences. To this end, it is vital to create an independent commission to inquire into the March 1 events.

7. At this point, it would be most dangerous and useless to imitate reforms.

*/emphasis mine/


artmika said...


What are the thoughts of the human rights defender, who released an extraordinary report on the post-election and pre-election developments on April 25 and underlined the importance of setting up a commission for independent investigation of the events of March 1, on Davit Harutiunyan’s approach that it would be expedient to set up the commission under the institution of the human rights defender. The reporters asked this question to Armen Harutiunyan after the release of the extraordinary report.

He said it is important to set up such a commission which would help build confidence among the society because otherwise the commission will be useless and will aggravate the lack of confidence. With regard to Davit Harutiunyan’s approach Armen Harutiunyan said they can think about the format of the commission. However, the ombudsman said he is convinced that the opposition which is not represented to the parliament must be involved in it.

Azad said...

This is really a good report with recommendations that combined with PACE recommendations offer solid basis to move forward towards the establishment of a true democracy.
Except: I didn’t understand the first recommendation. Has something been omitted there?

Azad said...

Sorry, I forgot to add “Bravo Armen Harutiunyan!”

artmika said...

Agree that the first recommendation is a bit vague, I suppose what he wanted to say is to ensure public accountability of the government and development of a system to allow effective functioning of the opposition and to exercise its influence. Hopefully, he provided clarifications in a Report itself; this is just a summary which Ombudsman's office provided. Here is how the first recommendation reads in Armenian in case it helps:

Ապահովել հասարակական վերահսկողության ներքո գործող իշխանություն և ուժեղ ընդդիմություն: Միայն այդ դեպքում իշխանությունն այլևս չի կարողանա իրեն ենթարկել հասարակությանը: Արդյունքում ընդդիմությունը ստիպված չի լինի փողոց դուրս գալ, քանի որ կկարողանա իր կարծիքն արտահայտել իրավական և քաղաքական միջոցներով:

artmika said...

Btw, as far as I understand, in a Report itself Armen Harutyunyan provided pretty critical to government overview of events of 1 March in Yerevan, especially morning crackdown on peaceful protesters in Liberty sq. I suppose, more will come out when we read the Report itself.

artmika said...

RFE/RL reports:

Armenian Ombudsman Again Questions Official Version Of Unrest

Armenia’s top state official in charge of human rights protection on Friday again challenged the official version of deadly post-election violence in Yerevan and, in particular, government claims that opposition protesters carried weapons and fired at security forces.

Ombudsman Armen Harutiunian also echoed international calls for an independent investigation into the March 1 clashes that left at least ten people dead and more than 160 others injured.

The Armenian authorities have defended the use of lethal force against thousands of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian who barricaded themselves on a street junction outside the Yerevan mayor’s office hours after the break-up of their 10-day sit-in in the city’s Liberty Square. They say security forces that tried to disperse the angry crowd were not only pelted with stones and Molotov cocktails but also came under gunfire. They also point to the looting of several shops and burning of dozens of cars that followed the police retreat from one of the streets leading to the vast area.

Harutiunian questioned the official theory in the immediate aftermath of the worst street violence in Armenia’s history, prompting harsh criticism from then President Robert Kocharian. The latter ordered troops into the capital and declared a 20-day state of emergency to quell the opposition campaign for a re-run of last February’s disputed presidential election.

Harutiunian stood by and elaborated on his critical statements in a 80-page report that detailed the dramatic events of March 1. The report says that the Armenian police have so far failed to publicize any evidence of the use of firearms by the protesters.

Law-enforcement authorities say two of the victims, both of them interior troops servicemen, died of severe wounds caused by an explosive device and a bullet allegedly fired from the crowd. They say dozens of other soldiers and police officers were also shot and wounded in pitched battles with Ter-Petrosian supporters.

The ombudsman said that investigators have not yet explained the precise circumstances of the death of at least eight civilians, most of whom had fractured skulls. The authorities insist that security forces fired only into the air. Harutiunian pointed in that regard to an amateur video clip that shows a group of heavily armed and masked troops firing in front of them. He also described as “suspicious” the fact that the looting occurred hundreds of meters away from the epicenter of the protest and that shops and other businesses located within the barricaded area were left intact.

The ombudsman’s report stresses that the deadly clashes were sparked by the early-morning dispersal of some 2,000 Ter-Petrosian supporters camped out in Liberty Square. The police say that they had to break up the non-stop sit-in only after the protesters refused to allow them to search the square for weapons. They claim to have found pistols and hand grenades there. Those have been repeatedly shown on state television.

Harutiunian cast doubt on the credibility of these claims. “If, as was presented by Public Television, fleeing demonstrators left guns behind them, then why is it that during their dispersal, which was accompanied by beatings and resistance, not a single gunshot was fired?” he asks in the report. The report says the purported search also violated Armenia’s Code of Procedural Justice that requires court warrants and the presence of witnesses in such cases.

The report further concludes that contrary to police assurances, the campers led by Ter-Petrosian were not warned to disperse before being attacked by scores of police and interior troops. “Furthermore, the protesters were not given any time to stop the rally,” it says. “According to witnesses, demonstrators were not even able to get out of the [police] cordon unharmed.”

Armenia’s law on rallies and demonstrations stipulates that riot police can use force to stop an unsanctioned street protest only twice warning its organizers and participants. In Harutiunian’s words, the police also failed to issue such warnings later in the morning of March 1 as they tried unsuccessfully to stop opposition supporters gathering outside the mayor’s office. The police left the area in the afternoon after the crowd rapidly grew in size.

artmika said...

Ombudsman's Report in full (in Armenian) is now available to download

Anonymous said...

Armen Harutyunyan's cas proves
that the important things are the institutions not the personalities.
When he was appointed Ombudsman, many people were sceptical about him. His 1dt months in office didn't really help to change this attitude.
But his (relatively) objective stance on March 1st, shows that he is not as bad as he could be, in fact he deserves respect.
The institution of ombudsman works!
Probably it's the only state institution in Armenia, which functions more or less normally

Anonymous said...

It's so encouraging to learn that a person called "dollar Armen" years ago has changed his stance. I would like to believe he is playing fair.

Anonymous said...

Arman Musinyan's recent statement shows that opposition is suspisious of the Ombudsman, and I think they have a good reason for that.

The ultimate aim of all this can be creation of an "independent" comission under Armen Harutyunyan, which will probably punish a couple of high ranking police officials, but will clear Serzh and Robert from all accusations.
In this way an illusion of an independent enquiry will be created, Europe will be satisfied, but the question of Robert's and SErzh's personal responsibility will remain unsolved forever.

Another possible version could be that Armen HArutyunyan is going to be Artur Baghdasaryan N 2 - the new "pseudo-opposition".

I might be too sceptical, but in Armenia you never know...

Anonymous said...

I don't know anything about opposition suspicions concerning AH but I don't believe he has changed so much as to repent for the graft actions committed at different educational institutions.

grigor sargsyan said...

[...] At this point, it would be most dangerous and useless to imitate reforms. [...]

I don't understand what he wants to say with this. That "imitate" doesn't make much sense to me. Is he talking figuratively or he really means that these are not times for reforms? I even looked up "imitate" still I don't get it, is this my English or something?

I was inclined to suppose that he was trying to imply that ``don't pretend that you are making reforms". Is that what he is saying? In which case, I don't understand why is he saying it? Or why he thinks that it needs to be said?

artmika said...

Grigor, what he means is that we need REAL reforms instead of their imitation. If you think, what we hear now (so far!) are empty words on new directions, reforms etc etc etc. So instead of these "imitations" we have to see evidence that reforms are actually taking place. Otherwise, collapse is a guaranteed outcome. That's his warning to government, as far as I understand his words.

grigor sargsyan said...

thanks. Thats what I thought as well, but I am still confused because by making such comments it feels to me he is weakening his position. Maybe later in the year it would of been more appropriate but at this stage if he continuous that line he will become just like Levon people, as the government will isolate him from everything, and he will then feel the urgency of making even more serious warnings and perhaps even start using Levon's language. I just really hope this doesn't happen.