Freedom House: Armenia cutting Ombudsman’s funding is troubling

– The Armenian authorities must ensure the unobstructed functioning of democratic and human rights institutions in the country, including civil society,” said Marc Behrendt, director for Europe & Eurasia at Freedom House.

The announcement came in response to the Armenian government’s legislative proposal to deprive the Human Rights Defender’s Office (HRDO) of its financial safeguards and “a dramatic increase in harassment of civil society organizations (CSOs) by opponents of democratic reform in Armenia.”

On February 26, the Armenian authorities moved to deprive the HRDO of government vehicles, and at the sitting of the government on March 11, the Ministry of Finance introduced a bill to remove Part 5 of Article 8 of the “Constitutional Law of the Republic of Armenia on the Human Rights Defender.” This new bill, if passed, will further constrain the independence of the HRDO and impede its mandate to protect human rights in Armenia.

“In addition to a disinformation campaign to smear civil society as a whole launched by opponents of democratic reform, the government is attempting to cut the funding independence of the HRDO. These troubling developments will only exacerbate Armenia’s political crisis,” Behrendt said.

In light of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and the current political crisis, it is more important than ever to preserve the ability of the HRDO and CSOs to raise awareness of the human rights violations committed during the conflict and call out restrictions on fundamental freedoms in the country, Freedom House said. The Armenian authorities should support the HRDO and CSOs by maintaining active dialogue with them, upholding the rule of law, and holding the perpetrators of violence and hate speech to account, the organization added.

Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan himself weighed in on the government’s decision, describing it as discriminatory. According to him, in 2020 alone, the HRDO received as many as 15,000 complaints, up from 5214 complaints in 2015. In the first two months of 2021, Tatoyan’s team has received 3000 complaints, he told a press conference on Saturday, March 13.

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