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September 15, 2006

ACNIS Holds Public Hearing on Eminent Domain:
Draft Law on Property Rights

Yerevan—Today the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) convened a public roundtable entitled “The Draft Armenian Law ‘On the Alienation of Property for Public and State Needs’” to thoroughly examine and deliver an expert opinion on this bill.

ACNIS director of research Stiopa Safarian greeted the audience with opening remarks. “This measure, which the National Assembly adopted at its first hearing, contains a grave danger in terms of honoring and defending the citizens’ right of proprietorship. Moreover, it does not help resolve the convoluted problems that have surfaced during the state’s expropriation of private property, underway in Armenia since 2004. Today’s discussion has the objective of pointing out the ambiguities and potential misinterpretations that exist in the draft law. We also intend to present suggestions to the National Assembly so that it can make relevant adjustments in this draft law before approval in its second reading,” Safarian mentioned.

In her address, Armenia’s first Ombudswoman Larisa Alaverdian deliberated on the ongoing infringements upon property rights following the April 18, 2006 decision of the Constitutional Court . In that verdict the Court had declared that several relevant articles in the civil and land codes as well as a governmental decision were unconstitutional. “Based on these acts, the properties of many Yerevan residents have been expropriated,” Alaverdian noted. She also added that the aforementioned ruling by the Constitutional Court should have become grounds not only to end this unlawful course of action, but also to completely re-examine what had occurred in the past. As maintained by the former human rights defender, the authorities unfortunately are not taking any measures toward reviewing the illegal decisions.

In his turn, the current Armenian Ombudsman’s senior adviser Georgiy Kutoyan focused on separate points of the bill and deemed them unacceptable from the standpoint of human rights. He expressed a conviction that the approval of such a law must first and foremost be aimed at guaranteeing maximum protection for the rights of the proprietor. In Kutoyan’s words, the issue at hand for this law is to regulate relations in connection with the alienation of property and specifically in cases where the “exceptionality” of the public interest is substantiated but the proprietor is unwilling to give up his assets. “When the question refers to property, and the expropriation of real estate in particular, the landowner confronts a number of inconveniences in terms of changes in regular lifestyle and surroundings, longer distances between home and workplace, and other unwelcome difficulties which are not considered during market evaluations,” Kutoyan said. He also concluded that this draft law needs to be revised fully and amended.

The next speaker, deputy chairman Hovhannes Margarian of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on State and Legal Affairs, underscored the importance of guaranteeing the protection of human rights within the context of the legislative proposal. He found impermissible this legitimization of anti-democratic and immoral actions against fellow citizens. “Through this law, an attempt is being made to validate, at the parliament, the government’s illegalities, and the legislative body has turned into an appendix of the executive,” Margarian stated. He added that numerous public urban development projects in Armenia pursue private commercial interests. According to the MP, by making these projects synonymous with “paramount public interest,” the parliament wants simply to justify the arbitrary redistribution of property. In Margarian’s belief, an adamant initiative is in order, including public hearings, so that this anti-democratic bill will not pass at the National Assembly.

The participants in the ensuing discussion included MP Vardan Mkrtchian; Heritage Party representative and jurist Hrair Tovmasian; Sedrak Baghdasarian of the “Victims of State Needs” NGO; Ruzan Khachaturian of the People’s Party; a group of former residents of Biuzand and neighboring streets in Yerevan; chairman Alexander Butayev of “The People are Masters of the Country” civic union; and several others. Leading specialist Hovik Hovakimian from the Ministry of Justice was also present at the public hearing as observer. The latter was authorized merely to record the suggestions and the remarks made on the draft law, for further presentation to Minister Davit Harutiunian.

Founded in 1994 by Raffi K. Hovannisian and supported by a global network of contributors, ACNIS serves as a link between innovative scholarship and the public policy challenges facing Armenia and the Armenian people in the post-Soviet world. It also aspires to be a catalyst for creative, strategic thinking and a wider understanding of the new global environment. In 2006, the Center focuses primarily on civic education, conflict resolution, and applied research on critical domestic and foreign policy issues for the state and the nation.

For further information on the Center and its activities, call (37410) 52-87-80 or 27-48-18; fax (37410) 52-48-46; e-mail root@acnis.am or info@acnis.am


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