On 20 September 2023, Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina participated at a joint meeting of the competent Commission for State Organisation and the interested Commission for Social Care, Labour, Health and Disabled in the National Council of the Republic of Slovenia.
He presented the 28th regular Annual Report of the Human Rights Ombudsman for 2022 and the Report on the implementation of tasks and authorisations of the National Preventive Mechanism in 2022, the latter being the body which prevents torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of persons deprived of their liberty.
Last year, the Human Rights Ombudsman (Ombudsman) dealt with almost 6,000 complaints and found 222 violations of rights and other irregularities, which most frequently pertained to the principle of good governance, unjustified prolonging of procedures, equality before the law, and violation of the right to social security. In the current report, the Ombudsman found most violations in the field governed by the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. This is followed by administrative units, the Ministry of Health, municipalities, Inspectorate of the Republic of Slovenia for the Environment and Spatial Planning, centres for social work, and others. “Even during the pandemic I warned that we as a society must, after the end of the pandemic, ensure the construction of an inclusive and solidary society. The recent floods have only increased the distress and insecurity of numerous people. It is time to connect and search for measures that will be widely accepted and will fill people with trust. In addition to urgent intervention measures it is important that those responsible in the state tackle the solutions of many systemic challenges which have been awaiting implementation for too long. I have been warning about numerous such challenges since the beginning of my term, yet many of our recommendations remain unrealised, which is completely unacceptable,” emphasised Ombudsman Svetina. Based on all their activities in the past year, the Ombudsman gives 83 new recommendations for solving key systemic challenges in Slovenia. They pertain to the work of various state bodies, municipalities, and bearers of public authority. We also warn about approximately 100 unrealised past recommendations, which still remain current. “In the field of protection of the rights of people with disabilities we give 25 new recommendations, while it is worrying that the majority of our recommendations regarding people with disabilities remain unimplemented. We repeat the unrealised recommendation that the government prepare an appropriate proposition to the National Assembly as soon as possible that the Republic of Slovenia, in accordance with Paragraph 2 of Article 33 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, finally establish an independent body for the promotion, protection, and monitoring of the implementation of this convention. We have been bringing attention to this for 13 years,” stressed the Ombudsman.
Last year, the institution of the Ombudsman devoted much attention to the accessibility of the built environment and services for people with disabilities. “With the purpose of providing accessibility of the built environment for all we give a new recommendation to the government to provide means for co-financing the construction of lifts, including in multi-storey buildings and facilities in private ownership which have less than five storeys. We suggest to the government that the legal bases and means for grants following the example of grants for energy renovation of buildings be provided,” explained the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman also devoted a lot of attention to the position of children, since almost 400 complaints were dealt with just in the field of children, and an additional 141 complaints in the field of child advocacy. “We have been warning for years about the lengthy judicial proceedings, the lack of court experts, especially clinical psychologists and child psychiatrists. We have noted more violence amongst children and online as well as peer violence, which we as a society must start solving effectively as soon as possible. All bodies have the responsibility to primarily protect the rights of children, including the right to be heard in proceedings pertaining to them and their best interests taken into consideration. We have been noticing that there is much too little awareness of this,” revealed Svetina. He added that this spring he appointed one of his deputies exclusively for human rights and child advocacy. The proposed amendment to the Human Rights Ombudsman Act expands the competences of the Ombudsman regarding children’s rights and predicts that according to the existing activities the competences of the Ombudsman be strengthened.
In the field of health, the Ombudsman warned that access to a doctor and the quality of treatment are key elements of public healthcare. “The situation in the country in this field is estimated to be very poor and is not improving, it even seems that it is getting worse from one year to the next. We cannot afford this ministry to be without a fully operational minister for several months. We note the lack of specialists in many fields, while the number of areas with shortages increases from year to year, with the especially problematic question of the shortage of family doctors. Insured persons do not have the same access to doctors, which is also revealed in the unacceptably long waiting lines that can even endanger the health of individuals, but most certainly can worsen their quality of life,” emphasised the Ombudsman.
Ombudsman Svetina also presented the report of the National Preventive Mechanism which last year visited 98 places of deprivation of liberty to the Members of National Council. “During the topical visits to seven retirement homes we enquired about the manners of protection on the wards for people with dementia. We found that there is still no appropriate solution regarding the provision of the legal basis for protecting tenants with staff. It is still the case that people from the secure ward cannot leave the ward independently or by their own free will and are therefore detained without the appropriate legal basis. We have been warning about this grave violation of limiting personal liberty for eight years. I expect that the people responsible will find appropriate solutions as soon as possible,” added Ombudsman Svetina.