How are whistleblowers perceived in Armenia?
The effective and healthy Rule of Law needs various groups of agents including a corps of Whistleblowers. The nature of corruption offenses is latent i.e. present but not visible. Therefore, Whistleblowers play an important role in fighting corruption through disclosing violations and other breaches of the law. In addition, an effective mechanism for the protection of Whistleblowers and an environment supportive of their role can play a preventative role as well. Organizations and companies will have a natural interest in maintaining legitimate and transparent operations.
Unfortunately, whistleblowers the world over are still perceived in a very negative fashion. Take, for example, the founder of Wikileaks Mr. Julian Assange or Edward Snowden. For some they are considered heroes, but for others they are traitors. In 2013, Mark Worth, an investigative journalist, produced a brilliant piece of research “Whistleblowing in Europe: Legal Protections for Whistleblowers in EU”. This research studied 27 out of 28 EU countries, and found “Whistleblowers remain burdened with negative stereotypes and derogatory labels such as “informer” and “snitch” that prevent them from being recognised for taking personal risks to help the common good”. If this attitude can flourish in the EU, then perhaps we should not be surprised that it is common in Armenia and other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. In Armenia whistleblowers suffer from the Soviet legacy of stigmatization of being labeled “informer”or “snitch.” This negative perception of whistleblowers in Armenia is partly based on the Soviet legacy, particularly during the eras of Lenin and Stalin. At that time, anonymous letters were enough for law enforcement to initiate criminal investigations, eschewing due process, and to hand down disproportionate sentences including the death penalty. Another basis for this negative perception of whistleblowing in Armenia could date back to the years of Ottoman rule when unreasonable criminal sanctions were used regularly particularly against Christian citizens. Regardless, it is a fact that whistleblowers are perceived negatively in Armenia. The Global Corruption Barometer of 2013 indicated that only 37% of respondents in Armenia thought that ordinary citizens could make a difference in the fight against corruption.
What were your priorities as the person responsible for drafting the Whistleblowing component of Armenia’s anti-corruption strategy?
As a member of the Working Group responsible for drafting the Concept Paper on the soon-to-be adopted new Anti-corruption Strategy of Armenia, I had the honor of being responsible for this topic. Thus, I was able to research the subject comprehensively and consider a wide variety of potential solutions. The first thing I tackled was the issue of finding a positive term for the word Whistleblower in Armenian. The Armenian language did not have a proper translation of the term. In official legal documents, the term was being translated and circulated as “Person who informs about offenses.” My suggestion, which was ultimately accepted, was “Azdarar.” This means “Person who alarms people about something”. For the first time in the history of Armenia, we gave Whistleblowers special attention in a state-level policy document.
What is the Legislative framework?
The legislative framework for the protection of whistleblowers is divided into two sections: public sector whistleblowers (whistleblowers who are public servants) and ordinary citizens. There is no special legislative framework for the protection of whistleblowers in the private sector. Armenia is a country where the ratified international treaties and conventions become part of national legislation and can be freely invoked in front of state institutions. It is an obligation to follow the requirements under article 33 of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which stipulates the need for protection of reporting persons. In 2012, I wrote the UNCAC Alternative Report on Armenia, and the findings then hold today.
With respect to public servants, Armenian law stipulates that public servants in the course of conducting their own duties must inform respective public officials of violations and any other illegal activities, including activities, which relate to corruption. The same article stipulates that competent bodies must guarantee the security of those public servants who conscientiously informed on the activities stipulated under the law. In addition, a 2011 government decision regulates the order of guaranteeing security for those public servants who report to public officials and competent bodies regarding violations and other actions (including those which relate to corruption) of other servants. If the reported act is of a criminal nature then the public servant, as a member of the public, falls under the regime of general protection.
What are some of the specifics of the law?
When drafting the Concept Paper, I suggested that certain steps be undertaken in order to be in line with the Criminal Code. The following were adopted: – • legally defining that persons who submit reports on corruption crimes enjoy the same treatment as defined by the Criminal Procedure Code for victims, witnesses and experts; • those causing damage to the property or health of a whistleblower (or his family) or threatening to do so will be criminally liable as will law enforcement for unlawful disclosure of the whistleblower’s identity; • defining that persons engaged in corruption crimes may be released from criminal liability or may expect to be subjected to relatively mild punishment if they co-operate with law enforcement bodies; • regularly providing the public with information on the process and results of investigations of corruption-related offences and publishing brief reports on the established disciplinary, administrative and judicial practices; • regularly providing the public with information on dismissal of state employees or penalties imposed against them and making the determinations public while respecting protection of personal data and provision of other guarantees. • improving systems of statistics and reporting on corruption-related offences. The new Anti-corruption strategy has yet to be adopted and it must be emphasized that even when it is there are no steps specific to private sector whistleblowers. Our focus was on public sector whistleblowers because of the need to protect public servants in the first instance. This goal is more feasible than enacting legislation which would target private sector whistleblowers in Armenia. – Unfortunately, in Armenia, the rights of whistleblowers are more precarious than ever since the dissolution of the State Labor Inspectorate, which had been in charge of fining for violations in the field of Labor Law. Now, it is unclear who is responsible for providing protection to workers apart from the Courts and the Human Rights department. I believe it is necessary to educate Armenians on the important role that Whistleblowing can play in the development of our country. Whistleblowers should not be considered traitors or disloyal when they are simply raising an issue of misconduct in order to prevent a more serious situation further down the line. Morally, whistleblowing is more than justifiable the only exceptions being in the sectors of national security or defense. A national awareness campaign on the utility of whistleblowing would go a long way to convincing citizens that whistleblowers act from moral outrage and commitment to living with integrity. Thus, in my view, rewards should not play a role in instances of whistleblowing. Whistleblowers should be motivated by a desire to act morally, with integrity, and not by the belief that blowing the whistle could result in financial gain.
The ETHIC Intelligence Experts’ Corner is an opportunity for specialists in the field of anti-corruption compliance to express their views on approaches to and developments in the sector. The views expressed in these articles are those of the authors.