Ombudsman’s role in creating a more tolerant society
[Translate to English:] Vloga varuha pri ustvarjanju strpnejše družbe
Barbara Samaluk, professional associate
The task of the Human Rights Ombudsman is to identify and prevent violations of human rights and other irregularities, and to eliminate their consequences. This is done at two levels. The first level deals with individual notifications of alleged violations of human rights, and the other concerns systemic, promotional, and preventive action. Raising the awareness of individuals on their rights and the rights of others, educating people on the ways of redressing injustices or preventing violations, and encouraging the broad public to accept the differences which is a condition to create a more tolerant society, comprise the preventive part of the Ombudsman’s work which is becoming more and more relevant in a multicultural society. The task of the Ombudsman is also to teach people not to live apart from each other, but try to live with each other.
In order to achieve that, it is fundamental to promote tolerance which is organically related to human rights. Tolerance does not only imply more patient ‘tolerating other people and those who are different from us’, but results from the idea that human rights need to be strictly respected such as they are: generally accepted (they belong to everyone without differences), inalienable (no one can take them from anyone for whatever reason), and indivisible (we can not be entitled to certain rights, and not to others). The relationship is mutual: striving for human rights is a key element of a tolerant behaviour; equally, without deciding for tolerance it is not possible to reach an appropriate level of respect and exercise of human rights.
International institutions against racism and intolerance, as well as national institutions for human rights and the ombudsmen have observed new forms of intolerant and discriminatory practices. One of these is the so-called new racism that could also be described as »cultural racism«. It is a form of discriminatory public discourse which has made a shift from the discourse on biological differences to the seemingly more acceptable discourse based on cultural differences. This kind of discourse defends the right of groups, in particular nations, to protect their own identity which consists of a traditional nucleus with a set of cultural characteristics (language, history, culture, etc.), and should not be »contaminated« by alien cultures if it wants to be preserved. The promoters of such a discourse claim that the efforts of the majority population to preserve its cultural identity are undermined by those who are different. The most alarming fact is that the promoters of such a discourse are doing this on behalf of human rights and try to present the organisations against discrimination and intolerance, national institutions for human rights and the ombudsmen as those whose activities undermine the cultural identity of the nation. Thus, in spite of the government measures and the adopted legal frameworks against discrimination and intolerance, there are gaps between the official anti-discriminatory policy and the public opinion.
In practice, efficient implementation of institutional and legal anti-discriminatory norms depends on the public opinion. In this context, it is important to know that populist prejudice is created, spread and preserved in a society not only with the help of extremist groups, but also with the help of political players and mass media. For this reason, it is up to governments and institutions involved in the human rights, NGOs, universities and research institutions, to find new ways, new strategies and practices for combating the existing and the emerging forms of discrimination.
This is and will remain to be in the focus of the recently founded group at the Ombudsman’s office for monitoring different forms of discrimination and intolerance. Thus, the Ombudsman will devote even more of his time to the promotion and education for a tolerant society. This will include the awareness raising related to the European Convention of Human Rights which guarantees civil and political rights, and the European Social Charter which guarantees social and economic rights. In this context, it is important to bear in mind the Framework Convention on the Protection of Minorities which bounds its signatories, including Slovenia, to enforce a complete and real equality of the members of minorities in all spheres of economic, social, political and cultural life. In this context, the contacts with NGOs, universities, research institutions and public institutes will be essential. The role of the Ombudsman will consist primarily in supporting and promoting relevant projects.
The Ombudsman assumed this role through a high level of reputation, credibility and people’s trust in the Ombudsman’s institution built up in the course of its ten-year operation, by focusing on public relations, and active engagement in the promotion and education for human rights. Through years of active cooperation with target public and coordination between the state institutions and the nongovernmental sector, universities, private institutes, and other professional and lay public, it has created a rich social network and, consequently, gained access to relevant data.
Access to information includes, among other things, information on the possibilities to seek funds in the EU programmes of awareness raising and education on human rights, and against discrimination. Since both the promotion and the education require huge financial resources, it is the task of the Ombudsman, as a promoter, to encourage the public involved in the process of eliminating intolerant and discriminatory practices, to prepare projects which can be part of these EU programmes and in this way obtain financial resources. It is essential that the Government puts in place a suitable information system and professional support to those who wish to apply.
The Ombudsman will perform the role of a stimulator through a set of activities which can also be part of the existing and the planned EU programmes. These activities include:
- Encourage the research institutions and the NGOs to detect different forms of discrimination and intolerance that will enable to foresee future development of discrimination, early warning signals, and prompt action
- Coordinate governmental, nongovernmental, local and international organisations in the fight against intolerance
- Encourage mass media (owners, editors, journalists) to overcome discourses which encourage prejudice and cultural racism, and encourage mass media to promote tolerance
- Encourage different types of target public to be actively engaged in limiting hate speech, and the racist and xenophobic propaganda on the Internet
- Educate to create a tolerant society – organise different educational forms and elaborate informational and educational materials
- Encourage active participation of the young people in the fight against discrimination and intolerance through the Ombudsman’s cooperation with universities, schools and NGOs
- Prepare and encourage multimedia campaigns to promote tolerance
- Encourage various artists (filmmakers, photographers, writers, poets) in their fight against intolerance and discrimination
- Guarantee and provide access to information related to discrimination and intolerance.
The Ombudsman already performs many of the above stated activities through concrete projects and activities aimed at raising the broad public’s awareness on the nature of discrimination, the ways of eliminating it, and the benefits of tolerant behaviour. These projects are important for two other reasons: by implementing and strongly promoting these projects, and by disseminating information on the possibilities of new projects, the Ombudsman will encourage others to prepare similar projects of promotion and education for a tolerant society. The projects are an important means of collecting and creating materials on the occurrences of discrimination and intolerance and their elimination. This complements the Ombudsman’s work of creating a systematic data base of all forms of discrimination and intolerance. Such a systematic data base will serve as a basis for the future work of antidiscrimination group, its research, handling of concrete cases and setting the strategies to eliminate different forms of discrimination and intolerance in the future. As it is essential that the Ombudsman cooperates with target public in this process, it will try to make the base publicly available in the future, in the form accessible to users anywhere and at any time. Mere access to important documents, cases, definitions, legal frameworks, research and statistical data will allow efficient integration of the target public in the fight against discrimination and intolerance.