The RA Human Rights Defender received an application, signed by 1255 residents of Koti, Voskepar, Barekamavan villages of Tavush marz (province), asking to provide them a professional conclusion on the process of enlargement of communities of the Republic of Armenia and the amendments, introduced into the Law of RA «On the Administrative-territorial division of the Republic of Armenia». According to the application, the process of initiation of amendments to the mentioned law by the Armenian Government was carried out with violations.
On the basis of the complaint, the Ombudsman has held a comprehensive legal analysis within his competence. Legal regulations, concerning this sphere, practical implementation of relevant legal acts, professional publications and discussions on the matter in mass media, as well as concerns of residents were used as a source for analysis. Clarifications of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly of RA on the Territorial Administration and Local Self-Government and the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Development of RA were also taken into consideration. International standards and the experience of foreign countries were analyzed.
Basic conclusions and recommendations of the analysis are given below:
- International experience proves that in general enlargement of communities can help overcoming numerous challenges, available in the country, including the solution of such problems as the poor quality of services provided to the population of communities, underdevelopment of infrastructures and lack of funds allocated for communities, dependence of communities from subventions and subsidies, provided by the central authorities, etc.
- Required prerequisites for legitimacy of the processes of unification or division of communities suppose that such processes must be carried out and aimed for public interests and based on the obligatory consideration of the public opinion of the given community population.
- It is unacceptable that the process of enlargement of communities in Armenia has taken place in the conditions of insufficient public awareness and absence of positive public perception. Such an unjustified hastiness in fact can impede the consistent implementation of the process and cause gaps and shortcomings in the issues of utmost importance, questioning the realization of concept, approved by the Government, and expected vision of the final result.
- Worrisome is the fact that the recent legal amendments, related to enlargement of communities, were initiated in the lack of results from the pilot program, aimed at the step-by-step, gradual implementation of the process. In any case, official comprehensive public clarifications or easy accessible publications on implementation of the pilot program are absent. These are also the reasons why residents of the communities concerned have no trust toward the process.
- The successful implementation of the process of enlargement of communities can be expected in case of the proper participation of the population in the process and full respect of the right to be informed. It is necessary to ensure the openness and transparency of the process, as well as certainty and predictability, based on them. The content of the constitutional requirement to hear the opinion of community cannot be limited just be hearing the public opinion as an end in itself, without any legal effect.
- To ensure the above-mentioned requirements, it is necessary to set a public timetable and hold discussions on its basis and in all possible cases to engage mass media representatives. Such discussions must be held in several rounds, aimed for various groups of the community population and especially for the target groups to be impacted by the effects of the process.
- The above-mentioned requirements, related to the process of enlargement of communities, must be ensured in such a way that a resident of the community could feel the comprehensive and real effect of the enlargement on himself /herself.
The legal analysis of the Human Rights Defender on the currently implemented process of enlargement of communities in the Republic of Armenia can be found here.