The institution of the Human Rights Ombudsman was introduced into the Slovenian constitutional order through the new Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia, which was adopted in December 1991. The Human Rights Ombudsman is defined in Article 159 of the Constitution, which provides that in order to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in relation to state authorities, local self-government authorities and bearers of public authority, the office of the Ombudsman for the rights of citizens shall be established by law.
Nevertheless, in establishing the origin of this institution in Slovenia, we should in no way neglect the part played by the Ombudsman’s predecessor, the Council for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the Council). The Council was set up in 1988, at a time when awareness was growing in Slovenia about the role and importance of human rights. The Council functioned consistently as a plurally constituted collective body. Its members comprised eminent individuals: university professors, artists, journalists, priests and others who worked non-professionally in the field of human rights protection. The work of the Council can be divided into three periods. In the first period, from 1988 to 1990, it operated within the framework of what was then the Socialist Alliance of Working People. The person mandated to form the Council was Prof. Dr. Ljubo Bavcon, long-time professor of criminal law at the Faculty of Law at the University of Ljubljana. During this period the Council functioned for the most part on a more general level, and by means of public statements it drew attention to the violation of human rights in Slovenia and Yugoslavia. In 1990 the then Slovenian (republic) assembly passed a special act on the Council, according it special legal powers to address individual cases. This involved the power of access to all information in state bodies, a power held also by ombudsmen. The act also provided that the president and the members he proposed would be elected by the assembly. By law the Council became independent and it moved from the premises of the Socialist Alliance to the assembly building. In the final phase, up to the end of 1994, when the Human Rights Ombudsman started to operate, the Council laid greater emphasis on dealing with complaints from individuals. In this period it dealt with an average of 300 complaints each year, and received around 1,000 telephone enquiries and requests for advice or legal assistance. This is not a large number, yet it should be borne in mind that the Council employed only two officers and a secretary. We may conclude therefore that the Ombudsman did not start from nothing, but in fact continued on the basis of the tradition and experiences of the Council’s work.
In December 1993, the Slovenian National Assembly adopted the Human Rights Ombudsman Act, which lays down his powers and jurisdiction and sets out the legal basis for establishing his office. On 29 September 1994, on the proposal of the president of the republic, the National Assembly elected Ivan Bizjak as the first Human Rights Ombudsman (his election required a two-thirds majority vote of all deputies). Upon his election the ombudsman proposed to the National Assembly the appointment of four deputy ombudsmen, but in its session of 8 December 1994 the National Assembly appointed three: Aleš Butala, France Jamnik and Jernej Rovšek were appointed deputy ombudsmen. In the fields for which they are competent, the deputies have all the authority accorded by law to the ombudsman.
The Human Rights Ombudsman officially started work on 1 January 1995. On that day the Council for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ceased operations, and the Council for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms Act ceased to be valid. In accordance with the law, the Ombudsman took over from the Council the archives and cases that it had received and had dealt with thus far.
At the beginning of his work the ombudsman performed the handover with the president of the Council for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Prof. Dr. Ljubo Bavcon. At his first press conference he thanked the president and members of the Council for their work and emphasised that the Council had done important work in the area of protecting human rights.
The Human Rights Ombudsman, as provided by law, is an institution formed according to the classical model of the national parliamentary ombudsman with broad powers with regard to state and other bodies exercising public authorisation. Such a model has been adopted by the majority of Western European countries. Through his tasks and jurisdiction, he represents an additional means of non-judicial protection of the individual’s rights.