On 14 September 2022, the Ombudsman Peter Svetina attended a joint session of the competent Commission for State Regulation and the interested Commission for Social Welfare, Labour, Health and Persons with Disabilities in the National Council of the Republic of Slovenia.
He presented the 27th regular Human Rights Ombudsman Annual Report for 2021 and the Report on the implementation of the tasks and powers of the National Preventive Mechanism for 2021, which prevents torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of persons deprived of their liberty.
Last year, the Ombudsman dealt with almost 7000 cases and found 276 violations of rights and other irregularities, mostly related to the principle of good governance, equality before the law, the principle of fairness, and violations of the right to social security and a healthy living environment. The Ombudsman found the highest number of infringements by the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. This is followed by the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Health, the Pension and Disability Insurance Institute, the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and others. "Last year, like the year before, was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected every corner of our society. Once again, we received a third more cases than before 2020. It is clear from the increased number of calls and petitions from individuals that the pandemic has increased people's hardships in many areas. It is unacceptable that the State's disrespect and violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms is exacerbating this situation," said Ombudsman Svetina.
In order to build an inclusive society, to respond to new waves of the epidemic and to address key systemic challenges in Slovenia, the Ombudsman makes 86 new recommendations based on all his activities over the past year. "In the area of the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, we are making 20 new recommendations, but it is worrying that most of our recommendations on persons with disabilities remain unaddressed. I reiterate my outstanding recommendation that the Government should, as soon as possible, make an appropriate proposal for the Republic of Slovenia to finally establish an independent body to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have been pointing this out for 12 years. I have repeatedly pointed out that the current situation is not in the best interests of people with disabilities and that the Ombudsman, as an institution with A status under the Paris Principles, is ready to take on this responsible and challenging task. Unfortunately, apart from one meeting last year, nothing has changed," said Ombudsman Svetina.
The situation of children remained sensitive last year, as the pandemic had a particular impact on this vulnerable group. The Ombudsman's Office is often confronted with problems of social exclusion and the consequences of poverty, peer and cyber violence, long-term foster care and many problems resulting from parental separation. "I reiterate the importance of prompt decision-making in all matters relating to the situation and rights of children, especially in court proceedings. Last year, 100 children received an advocate, but we note that the shortage of court experts in family matters can lead to violations of children's rights, and I expect the Government and the Medical Chamber to do everything necessary to remedy the unsustainable situation regarding the shortage of court experts in family matters as soon as possible," Svetina stressed.
The Ombudsman has been critical of the drafting and adoption of the Long-Term Care Act, which has been more than two decades in the making. "We are disappointed that the law does not sufficiently guarantee the human rights of older people and people with disabilities, as our comments and suggestions have largely not been taken into account and accepted. I urge the authorities to remedy the shortcomings identified as soon as possible, including, if necessary, by amending the law," the Ombudsman stressed.
In the area of healthcare, he pointed out that access to a doctor and quality of treatment are key elements of public healthcare. He called on those responsible to take action as soon as possible to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of family medicine practitioners, occupational medicine practitioners, paedopsychiatrists, opthamologists and clinical psychologists.