Former Deputy Minister of Justice Kristine Grigoryan has been elected to be Armenia's new Human Rights Defender, as the tenure of Arman Tatoyan — a frequent critic of the government — comes to an end.
Grigoryan has been working in the political field since 2009 she became a parliamentary staffer at age 29. Following the 2018 revolution, she worked as an adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Ararat Mirzoyan before being appointed Deputy Minister of Justice in July 2019.
As Deputy Minister of Justice, Grigoryan was one of the key figures of the recent police reforms — which included the creation of a dedicated traffic patrol service.
Speaking with OC Media, Daniel Ioannisyan, a project coordinator for the Union of Informed Citizens NGO, an Armenia-based democracy watchdog who had previously worked with Grigoryan on police reform, praised the appointment of a woman to such a position of ‘responsibility’.
He added that Grigoryan had the benefit of previously ‘being responsible for the implementation of the government’s human right’s policies’.
Despite his praise, Ioannisyan also noted that the appointment of a state official as Human Rights Defender ‘was worrying’, especially when ‘there are many established human rights activists in the country who might be suitable for the post’.
Some figures among Armenia’s opposition have been even less sanguine in their reception of the incoming Human Rights Defender.
As she was elected with votes solely from the ruling Civil Contract party and has served as a deputy minister under the Pashinyan administration, they contend she could be ‘constrained’ in her ability to perform her duties without bias.
During the discussion in parliament preceding the vote to appoint Grigoryan, she delivered comments in which she promised not to stifle herself in addressing human rights issues in the country, and to be ‘sharp’ in her assessments.
A troubled relationship
Arman Tatoyan’s six-year term as Human Rights Defender expires on 23 February. Grigoryan will officially replace him in the position the following day. Armenia’s ruling Civil Contract party announced its intention not to renew Tatoyan’s tenure in October 2021, after he harshly criticised the government’s handling of border disputes with Azerbaijan.
In response, the head of the country’s National Security Service, Armen Grigoryan, accused Tatoyan of being biased and ‘speaking against’ the revolution.
Arman Tatoyan, who was elected under the country’s pre-revolutionary authorities, has criticised the government and its actions since 2018 but became particularly cutting since Armenia’s defeat in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh war. Much of his criticism has focused on the government’s alleged failure to protect the rights of residents living on Armenia’s eastern border with Azerbaijan.