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Origin of ombudsman institutions in the world

The word ombudsman is originally Swedish and means "representative". In various countries around the world the representatives of the people who protect people´s rights are given a variety of names.

By 2001 the institution of ombudsman on the national level had spread to approximately 110 countries of the world. In many countries there are also regional, city and provincial ombudsmen, and some countries have ombudsmen on the national, regional and sub-national level.

Protection of human rights is one of the main purposes of ombudsmen and their offices, and this purpose is also reflected in the name of the institution.

The roots of the institution of ombudsman stretch back to 1809 in Sweden, when an ´ombudsman for justice´ was established. Up until the 20th century the institution did not extend beyond the Swedish border, but it was then adopted by the other Scandinavian countries (Finland - 1919, Denmark - 1952 and Norway - 1962).
The institution of ombudsman enjoyed its greatest popularity in the 1960´s, when it was established on a mass scale by the Commonwealth countries and by other, mainly European countries.

In the middle of 1983 approximately 21 countries had the institution of ombudsman on the national level, and 6 had the institution on the provincial/state or regional level.

In recent years the wholesale expansion of the institution of Ombudsman has been taking place as a consequence of the transition of many countries to democracy and to democratic structures of government.

The transition to democracy accompanied by reforms of governments, has been observed primarily in Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe and also in parts of Africa and Pacific Asia. The countries that established their own ombudsmen during this time comprise Argentina, Costa Rica, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, Namibia, South Africa, Poland, certain francophone African countries, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Thailand and the Philippines.

Building on this, under the principles of the Maastricht Treaty, the European Union established the European Ombudsman. The first of these was appointed in 1995.