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Networking between Ombudsmen and Human Rights Institutions

15.11.1999 17:42
Category: papers



FIFTH UNDP INTERNATIONAL WORKSHOP ON OMBUDSMAN AND HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTIONS
Almaty, 15–17 November, 1999


NETWORKING BETWEEN OMBUDSMEN AND HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTIONS
Ivan Bizjak, Ombudsman of Slovenia

The most important characteristics of an ombudsman’s workin networking with similar institutions from different countries arethe following:

    * an ombudsman is a very lonely person in his owncountry – where no similar institution exists which works on completelycomparable assignments by using similar methods to those an ombudsmancould lean on when shaping his own manners and methods of work.

    * his informal role presents him with a challenge,forcing him to constantly seek out new ways, ideas and approaches toensure efficient performance of his assignment.

    * an ombudsman's area of work is vast. Some issues could easily be neglected or overlooked.

This means that co-operation between ombudsmen is that much moreimportant. Contacts with similar institutions in other countries arealmost an imperative at the stage when a new institution is being setup. I can state from my own experience that without having learnedabout the nuts and bolts of the organisation, work methods andpractical experience from several other ombudsmen, our own institutioncould not have made such a rapid start on efficient work. This – fastand efficient work – is essential both for ensuring credibility andpublic trust and for establishing appropriate relations with statebodies.

Any mutual contact benefits both sides. Even an ombudsman who is onlyjust beginning his assignment can provide useful encouragement andideas to those who have been in the office for some time. Evenquestions, dilemmas and start-up problems can be a source ofencouragement. Those institutions which become too set in theirpractices or those who have been in the office for years are exposed tothe constant danger of becoming stuck in a routine, formal way of work,which jeopardises and lowers the efficiency of the institution.
 

Mechanisms of co-operation between ombudsmen

There is a wide range of types of mutual contacts,co-operation and exchange of experiences between ombudsmen to choosefrom in achieving the above objectives. Primarily, these include:

- bilateral contacts: fact-finding visits, staff training
- publications
- conferences, seminars, round tables, workshops
- associations of ombudsmen

If we take a look at annual reports or periodic information released by ombudsmen, we see that bilateral contacts areindeed very common. Ombudsmen are favourably inclined towards this formof co-operation, which includes not only visits by ombudsmen but alsofact-finding visits by their office staff.

Most publications are publishedby the International Ombudsman Institute, the IOI (the InternationalOmbudsman Yearbook, Occasional Paper, Newsletter) and the EuropeanOmbudsman Institute (Varia and other publications). In Europe, theEuropean Ombudsman Newsletter, published three times a year, conveysinformation on the work carried out by European national ombudsmen.Other publications published by various conferences are also important,particularly the anthologies of the round tables of European ombudsmenwhich are organised every two years by the Council of Europe.Considering the wide range of topics discussed, they reflect quite wellthe practical experience gained by ombudsmen in their work in verydiverse areas.

International meetings arecommon to the degree where there is a need for harmonisation of topicsand dates between organisers of various events. Every four years theIOI holds an international conference of ombudsmen (the next will takeplace at the end of 2000 in Durban, South Africa). I have alreadymentioned the round table organised by the Council of Europe every twoyears (the next is planned in Switzerland in 2001). In general,European national ombudsmen meet every year, either at a round tableorganised by the Council of Europe or at a special meeting in theintervening year (this year a meeting was not held due to technicalproblems; the next is planned for March 2000 in Georgia). We should notoverlook the regular workshops organised by the UNDP. The OSCE alsodemonstrates a commitment to networking by human rights ombudsmen andinstitutions.

Associations of ombudsmen

At the international level is the International OmbudsmanInstitute, which functions on a regional basis which allows foradjustments to the needs of ombudsmen on different continents. InEurope, the European Ombudsman Institute exists independently of theIOI. Since the members of one are usually also members of the other,there is a degree of co-ordination between the two. Listed below issome data on the two associations which they have published themselveson the Internet.

TheInternational Ombudsman Institute (I.O.I.)

1. Organization


The International Ombudsman Institute (I.O.I.), established in 1978, isa worldwide organization of ombudsman offices. It is incorporated as anon-profit organization under the Canada Corporations Act and, as such,has the status of a natural person at law. Voting Members are publicsector, independent ombudsman offices located around the world.Specialized ombudsman offices and public human rights organizations canbecome Voting Members if they meet the criteria contained in Article 5of the I.O.I. By-Laws.

The University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada and its Faculty of Lawprovides office space, a library and administrative support for theI.O.I. Secretariat. The International Ombudsman Institute funds itsregular activities purely on the subscription revenue obtained from itsmembers. Special projects are funded by grants from governmentalofficial development assistance agencies and private foundations.

The I.O.I. has six Regional Constituencies: 1) Africa, 2) Asia, 3)Australasian and Pacific, 4) Europe, 5) Caribbean and Latin America,and 6) North America. Most regions have a structure for regularmeetings and communication between their ombudsman offices.

2. Purposes

The By-Laws of the International Ombudsman Institute set out the purposes of the I.O.I. They are as follows:
   * promotion of the concept of ombudsman and the encouragement of its development throughout the world;
    * development and operation of programmes to enablean exchange of information and experience between ombudsmen throughoutthe world;
    * development and operation of educational programmes for ombudsmen, their staff and other interested people;
    * encouragement and support for research and study into the office of ombudsman;
    * collection, storage and dissemination ofinformation and research data about the institution of the ombudsman;
    * the organization of International Ombudsman Conferences; and
    * provision of scholarships, fellowships, grants andother types of financial support to individuals throughout the world toencourage the development of the ombudsman concept and to encouragestudy and research into the institution of ombudsman.

3. Official Languages

Effective in October 1996, the official languages of the I.O.I. areEnglish, French and Spanish (October 1996). Since 1997, the officiallanguages are being progressively used in I.O.I. activities andpublications.

4. Members

There are five categories of members of the International Ombudsman Institute:

Voting Members - Voting Members consist of ombudsman offices (which mayhave a variety of titles). Voting Members are entitled to vote atmeetings of the I.O.I. membership. Associate Members - This class ofmembers includes those persons or agencies interested or involved inombudsman-like activities, but who do not qualify as Voting Members.Honorary Life Members - Honorary Life Members are appointed by theInternational Ombudsman Institute Board of Directors. They are selectedpersons who have made outstanding contributions to the ombudsman ethosor function. Individual Members - This class of members includespersons who do not qualify as Voting Members, staff of an ombudsmanoffice who are interested in ombudsman activities, scholars andlibraries. Library Members - In addition, there are a number oflibraries around the world which are subscribers to the I.O.I.publications and are categorized as Library Members.

5. Board of Directors - Regional Representation

The International Ombudsman Institute is managed by a Board ofDirectors composed of representatives of Voting Members from around theworld. The members of the Board represent the six RegionalConstituencies as mentioned above. Members of the Board of Directorsare elected by the Voting Members of their particular Region. Thenumber of Board members per Region (3 or 4 persons) is dependent on thenumber of I.O.I. Voting Members in each Region. The executive membersof the Board (elected by the Board), are the President, Vice-Presidentand Treasurer. The Board also has a Secretary. Each Region designatesone of the Directors for their Region as "Regional Vice-President".

6. Activities

a. Conferences - International Ombudsman Conferences are organized andheld every four years. The I.O.I. has held the following sixconferences: 1) Edmonton, Canada (1978); 2) Jerusalem, Israel (1980);3) Stockholm, Sweden (1984); 4) Canberra, Australia (1988); 5) Vienna,Austria (1992) and (6) Buenos Aires, Argentina (1996).

b. Workshops, Advice and Support - From time to time, the I.O.I.organizes workshops and conferences for particular ombudsman audiences.On a regular basis, members of the I.O.I. Board of Directors provideadvice and support to new ombudsman offices around the world and tocountries that are interested in establishing an office. For example,in the past few years, advice and support has been provided to newoffices in Central and East Europe and to countries in Latin Americaand Africa which are considering or have established the institution.

c. Publications - The International Ombudsman Institute undertakes avariety of publishing activities. Based on the I.O.I. officiallanguages, work is underway to translate the publications intotrilingual texts. There are a full range of publications: TheInternational Ombudsman Yearbook (distributed through Kluwer LawInternational and formerly called The Ombudsman Journal), an OccasionalPaper Series, the quarterly International Ombudsman InstituteNewsletter, books containing articles based on conference papers, theDirectory of Ombudsman Offices, and the Profile of Ombudsman Officesand Other Complaint Handling Systems. The I.O.I. maintains a libraryand resource centre of monographs, articles, legislation and annualreports located at the I.O.I. Secretariat at the Faculty of Law,University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.

Applications for I.O.I. Membership shall be sent to the I.O.I.Secretariat. If an ombudsman office is applying, please encloseconstitutional documents which authorize the establishment of theombudsman office and set out the functions and powers of the ombudsman.These inclusions make it possible for the Membership Committee toassess whether the application meets the criteria set out in theBy-Laws. All correspondence and documentation must be provided in oneof the three official languages of the I.O.I.

TheEuropean Ombudsman Institute (EOI)


The European Ombudsman Institute is an association under Austrian law,domiciled in Innsbruck, Tyrol. The association was founded in 1988; itsproposers had been meeting at Innsbruck University since 1983 withinthe framework of a non-institutionalised union under the name "EuropeanOmbudsman Academy", where they had also been staging theme-relatedevents.

The European Ombudsman Institute is a non-profit making, scientificassociation; its purpose is to adopt a scientific approach inaddressing issues relating to human rights, civil protection an theinstitution of ombudsman; to conduct research in those areas; topromote and disseminate the ombudsman concept; to support Austrian andforeign ombudsman structures from a scientific viewpoint; and toco-operate with institutions advocating similar objective.

Today virtually all European ombudsmen are members of the association,together with professors and other private individuals with a keeninterest in the subject matter.

Any natural or legal person involved with issues relating to theombudsman concept and who agrees with the objectives of the associationmay become an ordinary member of the association of the EuropeanOmbudsman Institute.

Extraordinary members are such persons who trough their interests arein a position to and are able to promote the association, or anypersons dealing with issues of the European ombudsman system outsideEurope. The Committee decides on admission to membership.

Following the resolution of the general assembly held on June 3, 1994,the (annual) membership fee is ATS 3.000,-- for institutions and ATS300,-- for natural persons.
 

Networking of national human rights institutions

National institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights,founded in keeping with the Paris principles, also co-operate with eachother. There is a Co-ordinating Group for National Institutions whoseefforts are directed towards improving their work on the national leveland encouraging the formation of such institutions in those countrieswhere none exist. The Group also maintains various forms of contactwith the IOI.

TheEuropean Co-ordinating Group for National Institutions For the Promotionand Protection of Human Rights exists as a co-operativeentity between independent national human rights institutions.

National institutions co-operate in the protection of human rightsthrough the European Co-ordinating Group. This organisation enables theinstitutions to share the experiences gained and methods learned duringtheir work.

The Director for the Danish Centre for Human Rights, Morten Kjaerum, isthe Chairman of the European Co-ordinating Group and is in charge ofthe daily activities regarding the organisation of board meetings andthe writing up and distribution of newsletters, which have served as achannel of information on general human rights activities as well asproviding information on specific agreements and issues.
 

The Internet’s role

The Internet has opened vast new opportunities for real-time exchangesof experience between ombudsmen. Many offices have set up their ownhomepages, which usually contain, in addition to information on theinstitution, information on legal foundations and annual reports,information about their work and similar data. Listed at the end of thearticle are several Internet addresses. An important form ofinformation exchange is an email discussion list (omb_gov) allowingreal-time exchanges of various information by email. Recently some ofthe publications have been made available on the Internet, whichotherwise are published regularly in printed form (for example, the IOINewsletter or the European Ombudsman Newsletter).

I am certain that all these new opportunities will be of great help toevery ombudsman. We can only wish that the mutual information exchangewill be joined by those ombudsmen who have not yet done so.
 

Some Ombudsmen Internet addresses:

    * Defensor del Pueblo de la Nacion Argentina (http://www.defensor.gov.ar/indexe.html)
    * Human Rights Ombudsperson for Bosnia and Herzegovina(http://www.ohro.ba)
    * Le Protectour du Citoyen (Canada)(http://www.ombuds.gouv.qc.ca/)
    * Ombudsman Ontario (Canada)(http://www.ombuds.gouv.qc.ca/)
    * Deutscher Bundestag (http://www.ombudsman.on.ca/)
    * Folketingets Ombudsmand (Denmark)   (http://www.um.dk/danmark/om_danmark/ombudsman.html)
    * Commission for Local Administration in England(http://open.gov.uk/lgo)
    * European Ombudsman (European Union)(http://www.euro-ombudsman.eu.int/media/en/)
    * Comision Nacional de Derechos Humanos (Mexico) (http://www.cndh.org.mx)
    * De Nationale Ombudsman (Netherlands) (http://www.ombudsman.nl/)
    * Varuh človekovih pravic (Slovenia) (http://www.varuh-rs.si)
    * El Defensor del Pueblo (Spain)(http://www.sispain.org/SiSpain/english/politics/form/defender.html)
    * Riksdagens Ombudsman (Sweden)(http://www.riksdagen.se)
    * United States Ombudsman Association(http://www.usombudsman.org/)


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