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On the impact of National Preventive Mechanisms at the international conference on the 10th anniversary of the Slovenian NPM

In cooperation with the Council of Europe, the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia hosted an international conference on Wednesday and Thursday, 17 and 18 April 2018 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). The topic of the conference was the the impact assessment of NPMs.

The National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) at the Human Rights Ombudsman contributes significantly to the observance of human rights of people with limited freedom of movement, it was said at the conference on its 10th anniversary. Representatives of ministries highlighted the commitment to observing the NPM’s recommendations, while they thought that barriers to greater progress were, among other things, systemic.

Vlasta Nussdorfer, the Human Rights Ombudsman, initially emphasised the efforts of her Deputy, Ivan Šelih, also the Head of the NPM, and thanked everyone who have done a lot preventive work in the past ten years within the NPM in order to prevent torture and other degrading treatment in institutions where people’s movement is restricted.

She also gave some examples of the success of the NPM, and stressed that psychiatric hospitals on the basis of the NPM’s recommendations were observing the provisions of the Mental Health Act more consistently when admitting persons due to forced hospitalisation, had eliminated deficiencies when introducing and recording special protection measures and provided more information to patients regarding their rights. Retirement homes and special social care institutions were also more consistent when observing the provisions of the Mental Health Act when admitting and accommodating persons in secure wards. Based on the NPM’s recommendations, legal bases for accommodating residents in secure wards have been defined in more detail and more accurately. The concept of treating persons with dementia was further developed, and retirement homes have improved the appearance of their secure wards.

"Cooperation with ministries and other bodies is very good, but we would like their contributions to be more substantive, especially when dealing with systemic deficiencies," emphasised Ivan Šelih, Deputy Ombudsman and Head of the NPM, at today’s international conference in Ljubljana. He stated that NPM officials were pleased with the results of the recommendations leading towards systemic changes and the preparation of strategic guidelines for work in individual fields.

He expressed satisfaction that the institutions visited did not perceive them as an inspection body. "The NPM particularly strives to improve the quality of life of persons with limited freedom of movement," he said.

Markus Jaeger from the Directorate General of Human Rights and Rule of Law at the Council of Europe noted that the system worked exceptionally well in Slovenia, not only in the opinion of the NPM, but also in the opinion of non-governmental organisations. "In spite of all efforts, self-assessment naturally has its limits," he said to the press. "Ideally, there would have to be an external evaluator, who would not only say what more can be done and what not, but whose findings would contribute to a better NPM system in other countries, as well," he explained. The assessment or measurement of the impact of NPMs was later discussed by the participants at the conference over the next two days.

"The Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities strives to establish comparable quality in all retirement homes," said Janja Romih from the relevant Ministry at the conference. "The first guidelines on working with people with dementia were provided in 2011, and the document was last amended in February," she added.

During its visits to retirement homes in 2017, the National Preventive Mechanism determined that for various reasons retirement homes frequently failed to inform courts about the detention of persons on a ward which, in the opinion of the NPM, was effectively a secure ward. Retirement homes usually still accommodate residents on the ward and then inform the court of this, which is not compliant with the Mental Health Act, according to the NPM in its 2017 Annual Report, which will be published before the summer.

"When observing the human rights of people with limited freedom of movement, the Ministry of the Interior and the Police have made great progress in recent years," assessed Boštjan Šefic, State Secretary at the Ministry of the Interior, at the conference. He said that suitable training was also being provided. "We want to prevent irregularities; but if they occur, we take suitable measures," he said.

The NPM representatives, who visited almost 30 police stations in 2017, noticed that persons detained at certain stations did not have access to drinking water in detention rooms. Some stations where detention may last longer did not have areas for exercising outdoors. When visiting the Aliens Centre, they emphasised that accommodating minors in a closed type of institution could not be in their best interests.

The Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport also highlighted the advantages of the NPM’s recommendations at the conference. "The observance of human rights in the prison system is better because of the NPM," stressed Janja Pahor Mohorčič from the Ministry of Justice.

The NPM operates on the basis of the Act Ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which entered into force in 2007.