Natisni vsebino

Article for the Newsletter no. 15 (June 1998)

15.06.1998 19:06
Category: articles


I. ANNUAL REPORT 1997

The Human Rights Ombudsman of Slovenia Mr. Ivan Bizjak layed in the beginning of June before the Speaker of the slovene Parliament general annual report for the year 1997. In 1997 the ombudsman's report was read in the National Assembly for the first time; to be more precise, the first two annual reports were read. During its discussion of the reports the National Assembly expressed its support of the institution and work of the ombudsman and of the findings contained in the reports.

The resolutions passed showed a high level of awareness of the importance of respecting and protecting human rights. Since the present report will be read in the year that we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we attempt in the beginning of the annual report to make an overview according to the rights listed in the Universal Declaration and so illustrate the level to which certain guaranteed rights and the rights of some of the most sensitive groups in society are respected. We also mention certain circumstances which have a negative effect on the respecting and promotion of human rights in our country and some certain problems to which unfortunately we have already had to draw repeated attention. We expect a suitable response as soon as possible from all those to whom they relate.
 

II. FINDINGS AND ASSESSMENTS ON THE RESPECTING OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN SLOVENIA

General assessments of the respecting of fundamental human rights and freedoms in Slovenia are good. This does not mean, however, that individual irregularities do not occur and that there are not a number of problems which are in contravention of the stipulations of binding international legal acts and the provisions of the constitution of Slovenia. It seems to us necessary to draw attention to the key factors which show that we cannot be completely satisfied with what has been achieved in the field of respecting human rights and guaranteeing legal security in Slovenia.The greatest cause for concern is that attention needs to be drawn to certain serious problems for the third time in succession:

  • legal order is not complete and stable
  • state bodies operate inefficiently and even unlawfully
  • identified irregularities are rectified too slowly
  • inadequate informing of the public about government intentions
  • coordination between departments for the solving of problems takes too long
  • the attitude of the state to the individual is frequently inappropriate
  • there is inadequate care for certain groups which bear the greatest burden of the economic transformation
  • some areas still have no effective complaints procedures
  • state and other bodies have an inadequate sense of proper operation

Below we list some of problems with regard to individual human rights or the rights of specially sensitive groups.

Human dignity

The equal dignity of every person demands a respectful attitude to everyone who turns to any representative of state bodies or other statutory authorities. It also dictates the obligation of the state to provide for everyone who cannot do so himself the means of living a life worthy of a human being. A number of other functions derive from these two points.There are still no completely clearly designed criteria for the legal protection of individual dignity in cases of damage to reputation and good name, especially those which are committed in public.

The right to life, freedom and security of person

Although the forms of crime which threaten life and personal security are only increasing modestly, it will be of fundamental importance for the protection of these rights to improve the efficiency of the bodies involved in the prevention, detection and prosecution of criminal activities. At the same time it is essential to ensure the lawfulness of their operation and appropriate control, to prevent the occurrence of restriction of personal freedom and other rights in the name of suppressing crime.

Prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Violations of rights as a result of the overstepping of authority or improper use of authority by the forces of law and order are rare. Nevertheless it is worth devoting even greater attention to the training of police officers for the lawful and professional exercising of their powers. Special attention must be devoted to the treatment of every complaint relating to their unjustified use of force or to any type of torture or degrading treatment. We propose the introduction of periodic exams relating to human rights for police officers and authorized official personnel in prisons. These would be especially useful for personnel taking on more responsible independent functions.

The right to respect of personal and family life and the inviolability of homes and communications

These rights still do not have suitable legal protection. The provisions on permitted encroachments of these rights in the Penal Code have been overturned by the constitutional court. At the time of writing, the law on the police has still not been passed and the regulation of the sensitive area of security and intelligence services has evidently come to a complete halt. This means that any control of the legal limiting of these rights is extremely difficult.

Political and citizenship rights

We have not noted any particular problems in this area. The lack of democratic experience in the past occasionally causes problems and disagreements over the asserting of certain rights from this area, for example with regard to the right of freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the right to vote and the right to direct cooperation in the administering of public affairs.

The right to fair treatment

The main problem is asserting the right of the individual to have his rights and liabilities decided on "without unnecessary delay", as stated by the constitution, and "within a reasonable term", as stated by the European Convention. Cases we are dealing with show that this is the right breached most frequently in Slovenia.

The right to legal protection and to legal remedy

The lengthiness of court procedures and certain administrative procedures, especially complaints procedures, means that to many people effective legal protection is not available in procedures to decide their rights, liabilities or legal interests. The duration of procedures in certain cases actually places people in the same situation they would be in if legal protection was not guaranteed at all. It even happens that because of the lengthiness of the procedure an individual can be deprived of the right that would have been granted to him if the decision had been made within the legal deadline.

The right to cooperate in the administration of public affairs

The basic condition for the implementing of this right is being properly informed of the intentions of legislative and executive bodies and local government bodies, of proposed measures and their content, and on the implementation of plans, laws and guidelines. The approach of those responsible for keeping the public completely informed is still not suitable. It is a long way from the principle of transparency of authority (open government), which is a feature of a civilized society and the first principle of a solid democracy.

The rights of national communities

We have not observed serious problems relating to the respecting of rights of the constitutionally defined national minorities. The reason for this is undoubtedly their direct representation in representative bodies at the national and local level and the provisions on the cooperation of the national communities in decision-making on their rights and position. The position of the Gypsy community is considerably poorer, since the law envisaged in the constitution to regularize the position and special rights of this community has still not been passed.

The right of asylum

The possibility of exercising this right must be more suitably and more completely regulated by law. The current duration of the procedure is unreasonably long and can neither be in the interest of the applicant nor of the country.

The right to express national affiliation

Greater attention will need to be paid to the exercising of the cultural rights of the various groups living in Slovenia, in accordance with their wishes and interests. This is a question of the constitutionally guaranteed individual right of every person to cultivate and express his own culture, which he can - if he so wishes - also exercise in the community. Although the state might not be encouraging these efforts, at least it cannot hinder them.

The protection of equality and the respect of racial, religious and political differences

Slovenia is not immune to expressions of racial intolerance and xenophobia. Racial intolerance only reached expression in a few cases in times past, when decisive measures by state bodies probably prevented its spread. Xenophobia is more seriously rooted, something also reflected in the fact that in the past legislative proposals were made which contained elements of ethnic intolerance. Particularly alarming are occurrences of intolerance directed against Gypsies. One of the causes of this, which could be removed, is the legally unregulated position of this community. A particular problem in Slovenia is the low level of tolerance where differences in religious and other beliefs and the expression of beliefs in general are involved. Education in human rights, which is also stressed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, must to a large extent be directed towards allowance for and acceptance of the difference of others. It is important to actually observe the principle that it is not permissible to do to others what you would not wish to be done to you. Another important educational goal is not to judge the experience of others by our own criteria but instead to try and understand their experience, values and customs.

The rights of foreigners

We draw special attention to the still unregulated status of many inhabitants of Slovenia who before Slovenia gained independence had legally recognized permanent residence in the country. This was taken away from them in a controversial way and they have not managed to obtain any status envisaged by Slovene legislation. To date we have not succeeded in our proposals to resolve this problem. The lack of regulation in this area also has an effect on the promotion of the rights of the child and is frequently at odds with the principle of keeping families together. An expressed willingness to solve the problem should lead to a suitable solution as quickly as possible.

Freedom of movement

We have noted in particular cases where people who were formally foreigners after Slovenia gained independence have not been permitted to enter the country although their family members live here and have Slovene citizenship. It is not possible to appeal against being turned back at the border or having a visa application rejected, and therefore it has not been possible to examine the frequently very inadequate grounds on which entry is refused for defense and security reasons. Some well-known cases were resolved last year.

The rights of the child

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Slovenia is bound by, is not observed to a sufficient extent in the direct practice of those bodies that decide on children's rights and interests. The Convention could be used directly for the protection of children's rights in numerous procedures in which the applicable legislation does not provide a good basis for taking effective measures. The Convention derives from the rights of the child, which makes it possible for a child to be treated as a person, as a subject of rights and responsibilities. Judging and establishing what is in the child's interest is too subjective and therefore arbitrary, since regulations do not provide more detailed guidelines, and the child's own interest is not taken sufficiently into account, or the child cannot assert it adequately. The legislation also lacks a suitable basis for taking fast and effective measures in cases of abuse, torment or serious neglect of children, and therefore appropriate changes in family legislation are necessary. Social services centers, which carry out a range of functions to do with the protection of children's interests, also play an inappropriate double role here by simultaneously providing specialist social care and carrying out administrative functions. For this reason too, a reorganization of social care is necessary, as is the introduction of a suitable form of representation and intercession for children. Unfortunately children are also among the victims of lengthy and inefficient procedures, especially in relation to decisions on contact with a parent whom the child does not live with, and the payment of maintenance. Our proposal for the establishment of a maintenance fund is therefore grounded mainly in concern for the interests of the child in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The rights of women - equality of the sexes

Despite their guaranteed equality women are exposed to certain disproportionate burdens, particularly as regards material security, bringing up children, and other family obligations. As regards employment, they are exposed to numerous pressures which are difficult to prove, including pressure not to have children. There is no legal protection whatsoever here. Reports of concealed discrimination in employment are not infrequent. The sensitivity and response of society to concealed violence to women in the family is inadequate despite established institutional and volunteer mechanisms. Provisions for women who are victims of violence are not complete, since existing shelters and mothers' homes do not satisfy needs either in terms of capacity or regional distribution. There is also too little help for women trying to re-establish their independence after seeking help to escape from violence. A major contribution here is the lengthiness of procedures relating to the division of joint property, which is most often to the detriment of the woman, who as the weaker partner is generally unable to retain even a part of the property. Even if former partners have the possibility of housing available which would enable both to live in peace, the woman frequently has to find unsuitable emergency solutions while awaiting the decision of the court. As mothers, women also bear the greatest share of the burden arising from the inefficiencies in the procedure for claiming maintenance. It is clear that women are very badly represented in responsible positions in politics, the economy and public services, even though it is precisely the level of representation in such positions that is one of the indicators of the actual equality of women and men. Improving the situation is a complicated process which can only be based on an abandoning of stereotypes relating to the division of roles and work between the sexes.

The rights of invalids

The rights of invalids are not completely or uniformly regulated. This causes among different categories a feeling of unjustified discrimination. Stimulation of an improvement in the social atmosphere is necessary. This should enable the removal of all obstacles (and not just physical obstacles relating to access) which prevent invalids from taking an equal part in life in accordance with their capabilities and interests. Moves towards a market economy have limited employment possibilities, which means a need to find more suitable approaches to the education and training of certain categories of invalids.

The right to the peaceful enjoyment of property

In the processes of denationalization, by means of which the country is correcting former suppression of this right, legal deadlines are being exceeded. This creates a situation where individuals to whom by law formerly confiscated property should be returned are unable to enjoy it because of the unlawfulness of this procedure.The protection of this right is inadequate in numerous cases, among other reasons because of the lengthiness of court procedures for the protection of rights deriving from ownership.

The rights of employees

The protection of employees is inadequate because of legislation which is not fully adapted to changes in economic and political conditions and because of the time it takes to exercise legal protection of rights. The protection of rights is a long process and, particularly as regards the unlawful termination of employment, fails to fulfil its purpose. Inadequate regulation aggravates or even makes impossible the protection of employees' rights guaranteed by international acts and domestic regulations.
 

III. STATISTICS

In the time from January to the end of May this year Varuh človekovih pravic received 1,404 complaints. The biggest share present court and police procedures, administrative affairs and the questions related to different social issues.

Table: Registered complaints and their share 

AREAS OF OMBUDSMAN'S WORK 

 

1998
January - May

Registered 
complaints

Share

1. Constitutional rights

18

1.3 %

2. Restriction of personal freedom

69

4.9 %

3. Social security

173

  12.3 %

4. Labour relations

96

6.9 %

5. Administrative affairs

322

22.9 %

6. Court and police procedures

379

27.0 %

7. Environment

23

1.6 %

8. Public services

17

1.2 %

9. Housing matters

73

5.2 %

10. Others

234

16.7 %

TOTAL 

1404

100%


IV. INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

At the beginning of March the Human Rights Ombudsman of Slovenia Mr. Ivan Bizjak met with the Finish foreign Minister Mrs. Tarja Hallonen who was at the official visit to Slovenia. They were discussing different issues concerning the situation on the human rights field in Slovenia and on the international level. Mrs. Hallonen expressed pleasure that there has been established an institution of an Ombudsman in Slovenia and underlined a big importance of such an institution, especially in a restored democracies as far as changing the practice of the state bodies is concerned. In the meeting with the Finish foreign Minister Mr. Bizjak also expressed his support for the Finnish proposal to create a Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.

On the May 4 this year Mr.Ivan Bizjak received in his office the member of the European Commission Mrs. Anita Gradin, who is, among others, responsible for the relations with the Ombudsman institutions. Mr. Bizjak informed Mrs. Gradin about his work and stressed some findings, which are characteristic for the work of an Ombudsman in a country in transition. The member of the European Commission expressed her satisfaction about the decision to establish the institution of the Human Rights Ombudsman in Slovenia and mentioned that also in the European Commission they had a very good experience with the role and work of the European Ombudsman. Institution of the Ombudsman is important for the feeling of safety of each citizen," stressed Mrs. Gradin.

From May 9 to 11 Mr. Bizjak attended the meeting of the European Ombudsman Institute (EOI) held in Sarajevo, where he had a good opportunity to see how does the reality for returning of the refugees looks like. Here is also to stress that the Human Rights Ombudsman of Slovenia has had all the time since the establishing very close contacts with the three colleagues from the Ombudsman institution of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Following the invitation of the Speaker of The House of People´s Representatives of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Mr. Ivan Bizjak attended an international symposium on Human Rights Commission and Ombudsman Institute, held in Addis Ababa from May 18- 22. To more than one thousand participants Mr. Bizjak presented the legal fundament of the institution of an Ombudsman and practical issues he is dealing with. He also participated in different working groups which discussed some specific questions concerning the role and work of an Ombudsman.

On the invitation of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, United Nations Development Programme, the Council of Europe and the Polish Ombudsman Office Mr. Bizjak attended a seminar on Ombudsman and National Human Rights Protection Institutions, held in Warsaw from May 25-28. The seminar addressed a number of different questions, like practical and internal management of newly established ombudsman/human rights protection institutions, their relationship with public authorities and the judiciary, the preparation of national human rights education plans and the development of existing and emerging European and regional networks of ombudsman/national human rights protection institutions


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