Natisni vsebino

Address by the Ombudsman at a Reception on the Occasion of the Day of Human Rights

15.12.2003 16:31
Category: work and news, speeches

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Like every year, this year we again recall the day that the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And as is the custom on such occasions, we may remind ourselves and others that there may be something to learn from past experiences: we might improve or even eliminate what is bad, and as much as possible preserve and further develop what is good. But let us consider some past experiences here together.

The second half of the eighties, and especially the beginning of the nineties of the century just ended, were years when we had the feeling that a better life for us, and above all for democracy in its purest form, had finally and irrevocably taken hold. Many people saw in the newly emerging nation states an end, finally, to national suppression, intolerance and discrimination, and democratic elections were accepted as the act whereby once and for all people would do away with privilege and wealth on the one hand and poverty and exclusion on the other, with institutions in these new orders being purely and exclusively of the people. In short, the expectations of an ideal society were idealistic and in this way also unrealistic. And what has always happened in history with idealised expectations of the future after the march through the triumphal arch, had to happen this time, too: the nation state did not eliminate intolerance and discrimination, there are frequently even more privileges than before, as many as there are exclusions, and state institutions behave just as they have always done – if they are not controlled, they are insensitive to the needs and hardships of ordinary people. The change to the political system brought many good things, especially in the area of a politically plural society, but sadly it also brought the sobering realisation that the political fear of the previous system had been replaced by an existential fear under the new system. Although we acquired a range of political rights, we did – to a large extent needlessly – lose too much in terms of social rights and economic security. Without existential security, there cannot be political or social security. For this reason, we will in the future need to rethink the great “historic objectives”, where the individual serves merely in the function of these objectives, and find a place for each individual: equal and different.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
No government likes to be controlled, they just agree to it because there is no way of avoiding it. But governments can be overseen by various institutions, both from the state and the civil society.
And now we are celebrating the tenth anniversary of one of those institutions that works to ensure that the government does not forget its basic function: to serve its people. The office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, which will in its original Swedish form soon celebrate its two-hundredth anniversary, is for Slovenia a fairly new institution, but none the less, not much younger than the Slovenian state. To be precise: together with its predecessor, the Council for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, it is actually older. And although there is still a great deal that we must do, I dare to be proud of what this institution has done, and also of the work of all the staff that have contributed to this. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone, but especially the president of the Council, Prof. Dr. Ljubo Bavcon, and my predecessor, the first Ombudsman, Ivan Bizjak. We have all contributed to the best of our ability and knowledge towards this institution being respected both in Slovenia and around the world, and towards being able to look back with pride.

Of course the same goes for the Ombudsman, as all other institutions: its work must be continuously subject to critical review and improvement. And we are doing this all the time internally, and once a year also by means of holding this type of ceremony. And a tenth anniversary is also an opportunity for a ten-year review. In the coming months we will set our attention to this task, however today, let me say just a few words.

The first period of introducing the new institution into Slovenian society was concluded quickly in difficult times, even though the new-born was besieged by requests for the resolving of accumulated problems that originated in the period of independence: citizenship, “the erased”, denationalisation and privatisation; plus a range of injustices that arose as “collateral damage” in the correction of previous injustices. A great deal has been settled, but a great deal still binds us to committed work. In building the great history of the nation, we have forgotten too much about the individual in our society as a whole. Although this has never happened with the Human Rights Ombudsman, since working with each individual is our primary activity, in recent years we have focused especially on the specific needs and problems of individual groups in society. Establishing a department for children’s rights is one such beginning. We all agree that children are the most vulnerable group in society. But there are a host of others. And we will approach these groups chiefly by means of a department that will address the problems of intolerance and discrimination, which the National Assembly confirmed a few months ago.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Intolerance and discrimination against those who are different, that never-ending lament, is today a problem not encountered only by our own selves. The attitude to the unknown “other”, with all his or her peculiarities, is the foundation of every civilisation, which defines our life together and needs to be rebuilt again and again. Recently Europe gave a decisive NO! to the expression of intolerance, and even put at stake the election of a European government. Are we capable of saying a decisive “no” to intolerance? I hope profoundly that we are, although the exhibition that surrounds us is trying to convince me otherwise. I propose that for a moment we all take a look at the walls that surround us here, which point to our dark side of intolerance, and ask ourselves, how much we ourselves have contributed, consciously or through indifference, to these acts. More than anything, out of a firm resolve to not permit this kind of behaviour any longer.

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