Varuh ДЌlovekovih pravic

Narrow set of letters for personal names causes a Slovenian citizen problems

The Ombudsman regards competent authorities’ insistence on continuing with the current set of letters available for personal names, or the lack of a search for other possible solutions that would make it easier for Slovenian citizens whose names are rendered inaccurately because they contain ‘foreign’ Latin characters to prove their identity in formal and non-formal situations (when residing in a country where knowledge of the original surname is not in question), to be contrary to the principle of good governance.

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The Human Rights Ombudsman dealt with a petition from a Slovenian citizen who had married an Austrian national and taken his surname. That surname contained the letter ‘ß’. She highlighted the problems she was having in her day-to-day life because Slovenia did not have ‘ß’ in the set of letters and characters she could use to write her name. This meant that her surname had been changed to an inaccurate version that used ‘ss’ instead of ‘ß’. As she lived with her husband in Germany, where both versions of the surname exist, this increased the number of instances in which she was required to provide additional proof of identity (e.g. by producing her marriage certificate).

The Ombudsman warned the Ministry of the Interior (MNZ) that the fact that the set of letters and characters specified in the annex to the Rules on Implementation of the Civil Registry Act (the Rules) was obviously too narrow was causing quite a few problems, as this petition also made clear. Moreover, a personal name provides a citizen with identity and safeguards their personality and dignity (Article 2(2) of the Personal Name Act (ZOI-1)). It also follows from European Court of Human Rights case-law that while Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to respect for private and family life) does not explicitly refer to names, one’s personal name does constitute a means of personal identification and a family connection. It therefore does concern an individual’s private and family life (see, for example, the cases of Burghartz v. Switzerland and Stjerna v. Finland). Furthermore, the Ombudsman believes that one should consider the importance of European Union citizenship and the basic right that stems from it, i.e. to free movement between Member States. We therefore proposed that the MNZ consider expanding the set of available letters, or provide another suitable solution.

In July the MNZ responded by explaining that a proposal to expand the set of available letters to all Latin characters used in Europe had also been made on a number of occasions by the Association of Administrative Workers of Slovenia, most recently when the new version of the Civil Registry Act was being drafted in 2019. However, while it had been established that expanding the set of letters would be welcome when it came to writing a personal name in its original form, the languages and characters used within the European Union were so varied as to potentially give rise to considerable practical problems. In light of this, limiting the set of available letters was a sensible approach and one taken by other countries as well. There have not yet been any proposals for other joint solutions to this issue at European Union level (or even more widely) to address the problems outlined in the petitioner’s complaint. The MNZ therefore concluded that a general expansion of the set of available letters was not an appropriate solution. While an amendment to the Rules could add new letters to the set of characters that commonly appear in proper nouns in Slovenian, this would require an expert assessment. However, in the ministry’s opinion this was neither possible nor sensible if one were to fully comply with the principles of non-discrimination and free movement.

The Ombudsman regards the petition as justified, as the expansion of the set of available letters has also been supported by the administrative profession (as the MNZ itself points out), and because the ‘inaccurate’ rendition of a personal name can cause not inconsiderable inconveniences to an individual and their family. 14.5-2/2021