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Top Law-Enforcement Official Admits Lack Of Independence
One of Armenia’s most powerful security officials admitted on Thursday Armenian law-enforcement authorities have long lacked independence and carried out questionable government orders.
“This opinion of human rights activists is somewhat justified because the existence of an independent investigative body has long been deemed necessary in our society,” said Aghvan Hovsepian, the head of the recently formed Investigative Committee.
“All investigative bodies had he status of subordinate divisions [of police and other law-enforcement bodies.] Hence, natural concerns about the independence of investigators,” Hovsepian told reporters.
He claimed that the new law-enforcement body headed by him will be independent. “We will do everything to ensure that every investigator … is truly independent … The president of the republic is also seriously concerned with making this a reality,” he said.
Avetik Ishkhanian, a veteran campaigner leading the Armenian Helsinki Committee, was highly skeptical about Hovsepian’s assurances. “In reality, things will continue to be decided by political orders,” Ishkhanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The Investigative Committee, modelled on an eponymous agency existing in Russia, was set up by the Armenian authorities earlier this year. It comprises the former police and Defense Ministry divisions tasked with conducting criminal inquiries.
Hovsepian was named by President Serzh Sarkisian to run the committee less than a year after resigning as Armenia’s prosecutor-general following 15 years in office. Throughout his long tenure Hovsepian was dogged by allegations of serious human rights violations voiced by opposition and civic groups.
As chief prosecutor, Hovsepian also played a key role in government crackdowns on the opposition, notably the deadly suppression of 2008 post-election protests in Yerevan. Dozens of opposition members and supporters were jailed on highly controversial charges at the time.
Chief Armenian Prosecutor Reappointed
By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The National Assembly overwhelmingly endorsed on Thursday President Robert Kocharian’s decision to reappoint Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian for a new, six-year term.
The assembly backed the appointment, announced on Monday, by 118 votes to 3 at the end of two-day debates that saw Hovsepian grilled by lawmakers about continuing high-profile killings, prosecution of prominent government critics and his agency’s perceived failure to investigate electoral fraud.
The Armenian parliament until now had no say in the selection and appointment of the country’s chief prosecutors. The 2005 reform of the Armenian constitution gave the authority to confirm or block their appointment by the president of the republic. Also, the latter can not fire the prosecutor-general without the parliament’s consent.
Hovsepian declared after the vote that the new constitutional procedure will make him “more independent” of the executive branch of government. “The very fact that I am now standing before you and that you are appointing the prosecutor-general testifies to the independence of the entire prosecuting system,” he told the legislature on Wednesday.
Hovsepian’s confirmation was already a forgone conclusion on Monday when Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK), which controls the majority of parliament seats, spoke out in his favor. The HHK’s two junior partners in the governing coalition, the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), followed suit later in the week.
Dashnaktsutyun did so despite voicing serious concern at law-enforcement authorities’ failure to solve many of the high-profile killings committed in Armenian in recent years. Hovsepian assured parliamentarians on Wednesday that those killings are being seriously investigated by his agency and that the country’s overall crime rate has actually declined this year.
Hrayr Karapetian, a senior Dashnaktsutyun lawmaker, stated before Thursday’s secret ballot that Hovsepian can count on his party’s backing during his next term.
Hovsepian, who has extensive business interests and political ambitions, also appeared to have been backed by most deputies from the two opposition parties represented in the parliament. Leaders of the Orinats Yerkir and Zharangutyun parties, which hold 15 parliament seats, failed to formulate a position on his candidacy, saying that their deputies are free to back or oppose it. Only three of them chose to vote against.
Hovsepian was first appointed as prosecutor-general in 1998 but was forced to step down in the wake of the October 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament. Kocharian reinstated him as the country’s chief prosecutor in 2004.
Chief Prosecutor Resigns After Long Tenure
Irina Hovhannisyan Հրապարակված է՝ 13.09.2013
Aghvan Hovsepian, Armenia’s influential prosecutor-general, resigned on Friday after 15 years in office that have been marked by allegations of serious human rights violations made by opposition and civic groups.
Hovsepian, 60, was relieved of his duties after President Serzh Sarkisian did not appoint him for another five-year term.
Hovsepian’s resignation has been anticipated by some observers since Sarkisian publicly and harshly criticized the Special Investigative Service (SIS), a law-enforcement body subordinate to prosecutors, earlier this year. Andranik Mirzoyan, the SIS chief close to Hovsepian, was sacked as a result.
Sarkisian met Hovsepian and thanked him for his long tenure on Thursday. The president expressed hope that his work experience will remain of use to Armenian law-enforcement authorities . He has yet to announce who will replace the chief prosecutor.
Hovsepian declined to speculate about his likely successor as he spoke to journalists at a farewell ceremony held outside the Office of the Prosecutor-General and attended by its employees. He was also coy about the possibility of remaining in the state apparatus in a different capacity. “We will still work together,” he said without elaborating.
Hovsepian was first named prosecutor-general shortly after former President Robert Kocharian took office in 1998. He has since been one of the country’s most powerful state officials. He has influenced political processes through his Nig-Aparan organization uniting prominent natives of a district in central Armenia.
Hovsepian has also played a key role in government crackdowns on the opposition, notably the deadly suppression of 2008 post-election protests in Yerevan. Dozens of opposition members and supporters were jailed on highly controversial charges at the time.
Hovsepian infamously declared that former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, the main opposition candidate in the February 2008 presidential election, resorted to a mass hypnosis Armenia’s population to muster popular support for regime change. His theory about opposition recourse to the so-called “neuro-linguistic programming” (NLP) was part of a coup case brought by the Armenian authorities’ in the wake of the disputed ballot.
Armenian prosecutors have also faced allegations of corruption and gross violations of the due process from local and international human rights groups. Armenian courts rarely make decisions going against prosecutors’ wishes.
Hovsepian strongly defended his track record on Friday, saying that “reforms” implemented by his agency have strengthened justice in the country. He also hinted at his continued involvement in the political life.
“I will continue my public activities more vigorously because unfortunately there are many people in our society who spew venom,” Hovsepian said. “Their number is growing day by day. What I have been doing is simply an antidote against the poisoning of our society.”