The European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) issued a special opinion on the legislation that reduces the funding and the legal regime of the Office of Armenia’s human rights defender. According to the legislative provision, adopted in February 2020, each year the amount of budgetary allocation provided to the ombudsman and his staff, as well as the ombudsman as a national prevention mechanism, may not be less than the allocation provided by the state budget of the previous year. It also changed the legal regime of the Ombudsman institution's staff and subjecting it to the civil service regime.
The Human Rights Defender Arman Tatoyan requested on 17 March an opinion of the Venice Commission on the the legislation related to the independence of the Ombudsman’s staff vis à vis international standards on national human rights institutions.
According to the publication on the Venice Commission website, the opinion aimed to clarify the compatibility of Armenia's current legislation with regard to the independence of the staff of the Human Rights Defender with relevant international standards.
In the document, the Commission cites UN Resolutions and Paris Principles, reiterating that the independence of the staff is a key element of the Ombudsman institution. It is noted that the standards relating to the independence of the Ombudsman have thus given importance to the notion of the need for "sufficient resources" for the institution, which is an essential condition for the institution to be able to fulfill its mandate."
With regard to the budget of the institution, the Commission says "the law shall provide that the budgetary allocation of funds to the Ombudsman institution must be adequate to the need to ensure full, independent, and effective discharge of its responsibilities and functions."
The Commission recognizes that the new version of the Armenian legislation leads to substantial qualitative changes in the guarantees of independence of the Ombudsman. In its conclusions, the Commission says the 2020 amendments significantly reduce the power of the Ombudsman to recruit and implement its own staff policies.
It is also noted that the 2020 reform does not recognize the unique position and status of the Ombudsman institution, according both to international standards, as well to Armenian constitutional law previous to the amendments.
The Commission recommends revising the Ombudsman's legislative framework in order to clarify and guarantee his or her full independence in staff policies, notably recruitment, career, job classification, job descriptions, and ensuring that the Ombudsman’s staff system and staff policies are based on clear criteria, linked to the specificities and responsibilities of the institution.
The full document is available here.