Natisni vsebino

Ombudsman against any form of violence, stressed again in honour of Human Rights Day

11.12.2012 14:34
Category: work and news, speeches

Ladies and gentlemen,

At the National Assembly Session on 20 December 2006, I was elected the human rights ombudsman with 64 positive and no negative votes. This opened a new period in my professional and personal life. The transition from medicine to the field of human rights protection was not easy. As a specialist in psychiatry and a systemic family therapist, I found myself in the world of a different, mostly legal language and way of thinking. I encouraged my lawyer co-workers to speak and write their thoughts in a manner understandable to us “non-lawyers”. We gradually managed to bring the seemingly distant worlds of law and human psyche closer together as we sought optimal solutions for all who turned to the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia for help.

We raised issues which were not always related to human rights and fundamental freedoms in the way understood by the law, but which opened a broader look at the personal dignity of human beings. Poverty, the right to a healthy living environment, the rights of persons with mental disorders, and the rights of the dying and their close relatives were integrated with the rights of children, the elderly and the disabled and their right to an active participation in the resolution of problems which concern them.

Six years, the duration of a term of office of an ombudsman, is a long period in which a lot can be done, but still too short for the implementation of all good ideas. The term which is slowly coming to an end will leave lasting traces in the form of different projects, some of which will remain as a permanent form of the Ombudsman’s activities (for example the National Preventive Mechanism established under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment); others serve as a basis for the future legal arrangements (for example Advocate – A Child’s Voice), while some constitute a conclusion of thorough work in certain fields (for example the environment, the Roma minority and rights deriving from employment). Our door was wide open for cooperation with non-governmental organisations and civil society; together with their representatives, we elaborated on several topics, most prominently in the field of care for a healthy living environment.

I decided to replace my already composed address, which stressed the milestones of this term of office, with my thoughts about the current situation, in which it will be hard to avoid references to political decisions.

When I became the human rights ombudsman, I soon identified three main courses of my activities on the grounds of received initiatives and conversations with people. Already in 2007 I was shaken by poverty, which could be spotted at different levels only by careful observers, so I pointed out this issue by means of a professional meeting, bulleting and recommendations as soon as in 2008. This is how we put it: The Ombudsman recommends the preparation of an analysis of appropriateness of the minimum living costs evaluation, the gathering of information about the real rate of poverty in Slovenia, and drafting and adoption of the national strategy for the elimination of poverty and its forms. The recommendation was adopted by the National Assembly and the results of its (non)implementation may be observed daily.

The second main field of my activities has been children’s rights. This may be demonstrated by numerous consultations, some of them at the international level, publications and recommendations, and of course our project Advocate – A Child’s Voice, which we discussed this morning. I am convinced that the advocates introduced not only a new way for the implementation of children’s rights, but also a true help to children captured in a torrent of different procedures. Our support to the Family Code was based especially on the implementation of children’s rights regardless of the social or material status of their parents.

Environmental care and the question of what I could do in this field as an ombudsman led to thorough work that resulted in international conferences, a bulletin and the publication Environment and Human Rights: Public Participation in Environmental Matters – Theory and Practice. The strongest effect was achieved by opening our door to cooperation with civil society, especially with non-governmental organisations. The issue of the degraded natural environment in the Mežica and Celje basins and in Zasavje must be addressed by appropriate legislative solutions which will help the population in these regions. Any delays and excuses will only make the situation more difficult.

Several Slovenian towns and cities have experienced protests in recent weeks. As the human rights ombudsman, I cannot and must not remain without a response, as these events reopen many unresolved issues. And not only those that are expressed by posters and the exclamations of protesters and that will have to be answered by politicians to whom they refer. What worries me most is the violence experienced by participants at the protests. What goes on in the minds of those who come to the crowd with a single purpose – to hurt people present? Police officers, mostly without any real experience with similar situations, had to ensure the safety of people and property. The question of whether they exceeded their powers will be resolved by competent authorities. It has to be stressed, however, that they prevented even worse consequences by risking injury to themselves, so it is easy to understand their outrage at the decision of the prosecutor's office, which did not propose detention for the identified and previously known rioters. The message of this decision may be understood as a high standard of protection of human rights of these perpetrators of violence. But we have to state this clearly: we all have a right to live in a violence-free environment, and the state and its authorities are obliged to ensure that the perpetrators’ activities are as limited as possible.

The issue of hate speech also remains unresolved. We may see for ourselves how present and prevalent it is in Slovenia. There is, however, hardly any case-law in this field. So I reiterate my proposal to categorise hate speech as a minor offence. This will facilitate sanctioning and especially enhance the message to violators to take personal responsibility for such actions.

Talking about responsibility that should be also demonstrated by politicians and media, I cannot ignore the convening of the later cancelled emergency session of the National Assembly Committee for Education, Science, Culture, Sport and Youth and its foreseen agenda focused on the discussion about the instigation to intolerance and violence in certain media that supposedly “opened their space for statements which tolerated, incited or even constituted direct instigations to commit violence”. As reported by one of the media, the criticism by deputies targeted particularly the national broadcasting programme council and the ombudsman. I did not receive any materials for the emergency session at which my activities were to be discussed, which says a lot about the current democratic standards. In spite of this complication, though, I reiterate on this day of human rights that I oppose any form of violence, regardless of where, in what proportions and in what form it appears. This message is a constant of my life, not only of my term as an ombudsman. Therefore I firmly reject all attempts of using my words for political objectives.

After almost six years of being an ombudsman, I have a much better knowledge of human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as the ways of their implementation. This period has brought many people in favour of my way of work and thinking, as well as some enemies who are more or less explicit in expressing their criticism and even entirely personal threats. I hope that the next term sees the criticism aimed at the ombudsman turn more constructive, directed towards increased legal certainty and efficient protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms – all in the framework of competences entrusted to the ombudsman according to the Human Rights Ombudsman Act.

Let us spend this evening in the discussion about human rights and fundamental freedoms. Please transfer your thoughts to your working and living environment. And let us not forget: these are the rights of us all.

Dr. Zdenka Čebašek - Travnik, ombudsman


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