Natisni vsebino

The role of the Ombudsman in creating a more tolerant society

18.10.2005 13:50
Category: papers

The role of the Human Rights Ombudsman is to identify and prevent violations of human rights and other irregularities and to eliminate their consequences. This occurs on two levels. The first level involves dealing with individual reports of claimed violations of a person’s human rights, and the other level involves work of a systemic, promotional and preventive nature. Raising the awareness of individuals about their rights and the rights of others, educating people about the ways of correcting injustices and the ways of preventing violations, and encouraging the general public to accommodate differences, which is the basis for creating a more tolerant society, comprise the preventive dimension of the Ombudsman’s work, which in a multicultural society is becoming increasingly important. Teaching people to live together, rather than at arm’s length, is also part of the Ombudsman’s job.

Essential to achieving this is the promotion of tolerance, which is inextricably linked to human rights. Tolerance does not simply mean passively "putting up with others and people who are different from yourself", but arises from the conviction that one must consistently respect the rights of people exactly as they are: universally accepted (applying to everyone without exception), inalienable (no-one may take them away from anyone for any reason) and indivisible (we cannot be entitled to some rights and not to others). The relationship is mutual: advocacy of human rights is a key element of tolerant behaviour; and without the decision to be tolerant it is impossible to achieve a proper level of respect and the exercising of human rights.

International institutions for the fight against racism and intolerance, alongside national human rights institutions and ombudsmen, have observed new forms of intolerant and discriminatory practices. One of them involves so-called “cultural racism”. This involves a form of discriminatory public discourse, which has shifted away from discourse based on biological differences towards a more acceptable discourse based on cultural differences. Such a discourse advocates the right of groups, and particularly nations, to protect their own identity, which is composed of a traditional core encompassing a range of cultural characteristics (language, history, culture and so forth) and which may not be “poisoned” by an alien culture if it wishes to preserve itself. Those promoting such discourse present the majority population as being threatened by others and those that are different in preserving its own cultural identity. The most dangerous element of this is the fact that the promoters of such discourse do so in the name of human rights, and they portray organisations fighting against discrimination and intolerance, national human rights institutions and ombudsmen as those whose activities threaten the cultural identity of the nation. Thus despite government measures and adopted legal frameworks to fight discrimination and intolerance, gaps emerge between official anti-discrimination policy and public opinion.

For effective practical implementation, the institutional and legal basis for the fight against discrimination depends on public opinion. Here it should be realised that populist prejudices are created, spread and maintained in society not simply by means of extremist organisations, but also by means of the main political figures and the mass media. Therefore the job of governments, institutions working in the field of human rights, non-governmental organisations, universities and research institutions is to seek out new paths, and to find new strategies and practices to fight existing and emerging forms of discrimination. 

This is and will be the focus of an Expert Working Group recently established within the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman to monitor all forms of discrimination and intolerance. Here of course it is essential to link up with non-governmental organisations, universities, research institutions and public agencies. In this the Ombudsman will act primarily in the role of supporter and promoter of projects.

This role of the Ombudsman is enabled by the high level of standing, credibility and people’s trust for the institution of the Ombudsman, something which it has acquired during its ten years of operation, its active focus on public relations and its enhanced activities in the area of promoting and educating for human rights. The Ombudsman’s outward orientation over the years has also earned this institution its role as a creator of public opinion, enjoying enviable latitude of media space, which also enables  the ombudsman to use mass media for the promotion and education of human rights. Active cooperation with various circles, and forging links between state institutions and the non-governmental sector, universities, private institutes and wider professional and lay circles have also over the years created for the Ombudsman an extensive social network and thereby access to important information.

Access to information also includes continuously updated information on the possibilities for applying for EU programme funds aimed at awareness raising and education about human rights and the fight against discrimination. Since both promotion and education require significant financial resources, the Ombudsman’s role as a promoter also involves working with various sectors of the public, whose activities might serve in the process of eradicating intolerant and discriminatory practices, to encourage the preparation of projects that could form part of such EU programmes and which could in this way be provided with funds. In this regard it is vitally important that the government provides an adequate information system and professional support for those that wish to apply.

The Ombudsman will fulfil his role as a promoter and supporter through a range of activities. These activities are as follows:

 Encouraging research institutions and non-governmental organisations to detect different forms of discrimination and intolerance, which will also facilitate projections of the further development of forms of discrimination, early warnings and rapid action
 Linking up governmental, non-governmental, local and international organisations in the fight against intolerance
 Encouraging the mass media (proprietors, editors and journalists) to move beyond discourse that promotes prejudices and entrenches cultural racism, and encouraging the mass media to promote tolerance
 Encouraging various sectors of public to fight hate speech and racist or xenophobic propaganda on the internet
 Educating for a tolerant society – organising seminars, round tables and conferences for various target groups
 Encouraging non-governmental organisations in various activities to fight discrimination and intolerance
 Encouraging the active participation of young people in the fight against discrimination and intolerance through the collaboration of the Ombudsman and various faculties, schools and non-governmental organisations
 Preparation and promotion of multimedia campaigns to promote tolerance
 Encouraging various artists and creative persons to help fight intolerance and discrimination (film workers, advertisers, photographers, writers, poets)
 Producing and encouraging the production of informational and educational material to promote tolerance (folders, brochures, booklets, collections, reports, books, newsletters and so forth)
 Providing and facilitating access to information on discrimination and intolerance

The Ombudsman is already carrying out many of the above-mentioned activities in specific projects that are briefly presented below.

In the context of drawing attention to growing forms of intolerance and discrimination that we have witnessed in recent years in Slovenia, with the help of external associates – university professors, journalists, painters and photographers – we designed the project “Forms of intolerance in Slovenia”. The project emerged as a response to the worsening forms of intolerance towards minority groups, whose lives are becoming increasingly hard and poor because of this. The main purpose of the project was to gather material on evidence of intolerance and discrimination that could be identified in Slovenia ever since independence, to process and present the collected material and to point out the link between the public hate speech of politicians and individual attacks based on hatred, and in general to raise awareness and educate about human rights.

On the basis of the collected material, an exhibition was designed with the title Never-Ending Story of Intolerance, covering the period from independence up to the present day, and showing how acts of hatred intensified and what effect they had on the groups against which they were aimed. The exhibition also involved the production of a documentary film, BRČV 2004, which records the testimony of people who have been victims of violence in the public. The exhibition has been and will still be shown at various locations in Slovenia, and where possible the exhibition is accompanied by a round table on forms of intolerance and how to overcome them, aimed at awareness raising in the general public. Since the collected material also offers an excellent basis for theoretical analysis, we decided to publish a collection of papers, for the production of which we invited distinguished Slovenian journalists and writers, who will take an analytical approach to the collected material and produce professional papers on various topics. This collection should be published at the end of this year.

A presentation of forms of intolerance and discrimination must logically be followed by appeals and awareness-raising among the general public about why tolerance is good, beneficial and the cornerstone of social coexistence and intercultural harmony. To this end the Ombudsman has designed a project to promote tolerance by means of visual communication, which owing to its simple form of expression and diverse possibilities for distribution can reach the greatest portion of the general public. Since the value added in carrying out the promotion of tolerance is so much greater if a particular section of the public is involved, we decided to invite students to collaborate. Students already possess a well-developed theoretical knowledge, but at the same time insufficient practical experience, so this kind of project can be enormously beneficial to them in applying the theoretical principles they have acquired in their studies, while also affording them direct contact with the world of work. To carry out this kind of project they therefore still need the support of their mentors, who will be able to offer them appropriate guidance in important decisions.
Carrying out effective promotion of tolerance by means of visual communication requires the collaboration of various disciplines. In order to achieve the strongest possible message in social advertising to promote tolerance, it is necessary in the initial phase to define the various forms of discrimination and intolerance, to identify the most manifest forms that appear in Slovenia, and define the reasons why they have appeared. The second phase involves formulating the message, in other words putting clearly into words the concept of promoting tolerance, formulating appropriate marketing mix and finally designing and producing visual messages. Effective realisation therefore requires the combining of at least two disciplines, which could each with their own knowledge contribute to the realisation of the interdisciplinary project of promoting tolerance through visual communication. We therefore invited the cooperation of the Faculty of Social Work and the Design Department of the Academy of Fine Arts. The purpose of the project is to educate students, through their active participation, about various forms of discrimination and intolerance, and about ways of preventing them, and in general to encourage faculties to cooperate mutually and to be actively involved in processes of reducing intolerant practices as well as to raise public awareness about the advantages of a tolerant society.
To mark Human Rights Day, the Ombudsman is organising a round table on “The responsibility of film makers and human rights”, which will be followed by the screening of existing Slovenian films showing violations of human rights, intolerant and discriminatory practices and their elimination. The main purpose of this event is to encourage film makers, whose products can exert a very strong influence in the general public, to be actively involved in eradicating intolerance, to inform them of the possibilities for applying to existing EU programmes aimed at promoting and educating for a tolerant society, and in general to raise public awareness about the importance of fighting against intolerant and discriminatory practices.

Apart from the fact that these projects raise awareness in the general public about the manifest forms of intolerance and the ways of eradicating it, as well as about the advantages of tolerant behaviour, they are important for two other reasons. By carrying out and vigorously promoting these projects and by providing information on the possibilities for carrying out new ones, the Ombudsman will encourage others to design projects aimed at promoting and educating for a tolerant society. The projects are also vital in terms of collecting and producing material on the forms of discrimination and intolerance and the ways of eradicating them. In this way they supplement the Ombudsman’s work in creating systematic databases for all forms of discrimination and intolerance. Such a systematically arranged database will represent a basis for the work of the Antidiscrimination Working Group in the future, for research, dealing with specific cases and for creating strategies to eliminate various forms of discrimination and intolerance. Since it is essential in this process for the Ombudsman to cooperate with various circles of the public, for the future the database must be made publicly accessible, so the Ombudsman aims to create an extensive web portal on discrimination and intolerance. The mere accessibility of important documents, cases, definitions, legal frameworks, research and statistical data will facilitate the inclusion of various groups of the public in the fight against discrimination and intolerance, since this kind of web portal will enable references both to professional circles as well as journalists and editors, non-governmental organisations, artists and to research and educational institutions and their users. 

Prepared by:
Barbara Samaluk
Expert Officer – Antidiscrimination Working Group

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