How can Armenia provide proper protection of whistleblowers for effective anti-corruption?

15 May 2015, by Khachik Harutyunyan, Transparency International Anticorruption Center

The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) recognises the importance of whistleblower protection and reporting channels. However, in most countries of Europe, and indeed in many of the 175 countries that have ratified the UNCAC, the perception of whistleblowers is poor and there is a lack of sound and effective legal avenues for their protection.

Armenia, too, still lacks adequate legal protections or the means and will to protect and empower whistleblowers. They do not tend to enjoy public sympathy there, and are few and far between. Unfortunately there is a negative perception that dominates in Armenia.

This is partially connected to the Soviet legacy, where those who reported “crimes” were labeled as “snitches”, despite the fact that nowadays these people are the ones making corrupt practices visible which the public should know about.

In terms of legal protection of whistleblowers, Armenia’s legislative framework is in great need of improvement. The problem is the following: there are two legal regimes of protection of whistleblowers:

  1. The first one concerns protection of whistleblowers who are public servants. The main legal document that regulates these servants is government’s decision no. N1816-N (23/12/11). This decision doesn’t have wide enforcement and application.
  2. The second regime relates to whistleblowers in general and is regulated by the Criminal Procedure Code of Armenia. The problem here is that whistleblowers can be granted protections provided by the Code only if they are considered “participants of proceedings”. The Code specifies who are considered as “participants of proceedings” and these participants include “witnesses” and “victims”. The respective law enforcement body (body at stake to which the whistleblower approached – e.g. Police, Special Investigative Service, Investigative Committee) has discretion to adopt a decision and grant such status. The problem here is that if the law enforcement body doesn’t open a criminal file and doesn’t grant such status to the reporting person then s/he remains without any legal protection.

Taking into consideration the above, there are three steps that the Armenian government should take in order to provide whistleblower protection and implement UNCAC Article 33 on Protection of Reporting Persons:

  1. Build a positive picture of whistleblowers – For this, state level campaigns are needed;
  2. Research the best practice of whistleblower protection, particularly of the United Kingdom, as well to incorporate the principles developed by Transparency International. UNODC is developing a good practice guide that should be available soon;
  3. Adopt specific legislation on whistleblower protection and by adopting parallel alterations and amendments into the Criminal Procedure Code, in order to provide proper protection to whistleblowers from the first encounter with law enforcement bodies.