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Armenia’s Human Rights Defender faces off with government

25 October 2021
Arnab Tatoyan. Official photo.

The already hostile relationship between Armenia’s Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan and the Pashinyan administration has deepened in recent weeks with both Tatoyan and government authorities openly trading barbs.

On 22 October, Tatoyan repeated his assertion that the Azerbaijani military was carrying out ‘active engineering work’ and building fortifications on the territory in the eastern Armenian province of Gegharkunik. 

The claim was immediately followed by a statement from the Ministry of Defence refuting Tatoyan’ assertion and stating that the ‘engineering work’ was carried out ‘not in the territory of Armenia, but ‘next to it’. The Ministry also called on Tatoyan to refrain from spreading ‘unverified information’.

That same day, in an interview with RusArminfo, Armen Grigoryan, Secretary of the Security Council of Armenia, stated that Tatoyan has never been ‘unbiased’ in his position as Human Rights Defender. He also accused Tatoyan of repeatedly ‘speaking against the revolution’ — referencing the 2018 revolution that deposed then-Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan and the long-ruling Republican Party, bringing Nikol Pashinyan to power.  

Tatoyan was appointed by a Republican Party-led parliament in 2016 for a 6-year term. Grigoryan claimed that as Tatoyan’s tenure as Human Rights Defender is coming to an end it is ‘obvious’ that he is seeking to start a ‘political career’. 

The relationship between Armenia’s Human Rights Defender and the Pashinyan administration soured in the wake of Armenia’s defeat in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. Tatoyan has been particularly critical of government actions in the wake of Azerbaijani troops crossing Armenia internationally recognised border this past spring.

 [Read more Border crisis between Armenia and Azerbaijan continues]

Tatoyan also caused consternation in the government for his criticism of violent rhetoric used during the 2021 snap parliamentary election campaign by both ruling authorities — including Nikol Pashinyan specifically —  and the opposition.   

Defunding the Human Rights Defender?

In April of this year, the Armenian government proposed abolishing a provision in the Armenian Constitution that stipulated that the office of the Human Rights Defender cannot receive less funding in any given year than the amount it had received the previous year. The measure has not yet been voted on in parliament.

Tatoyan condemned the move as ‘discrimination’ that would ‘abolish’ the independence of the office, by making it vulnerable to financial pressure from the authorities. 

The government denied any political motives behind the bill.

In March, a month before the draft constitutional amendment was announced, Tatoyan also accused the ruling authorities of no longer inviting him to weekly government briefings. 

Pashinyan’s spokesperson Mane Gevorgyan replied to the accusation by claiming that Tatoyan had not been attending the briefings ‘for a while’ and had instead sent employees of the Human Rights Defender’s Office in his stead — and that even more recently, his office had sent no one at all. 

In a statement, Tatoyan’s office stressed that invitations to government sessions are a right rather than an obligation of the Human Rights Defender.

‘For objective reasons, the Human Rights Defender was unable to personally attend several government sessions due to a sharp increase in the amount of work and complaints, frequent trips to the Syunik and Gegharkunik provinces, which are necessary to draw up reports for international organisations’, the statement reads.

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