On 20 May, the Office of the Ombudsman of Croatia, one of our Croatian members, had their annual report rejected by the Croatian Parliament by 63 votes to 49. According to the Ombudswoman Lora Vidović, “the rejection of the 2015 Ombudswoman Report in the Croatian Parliament represents political pressure on the independence of the institution. This is further supported by the fact that members of parliament had previously unanimously adopted the Report during discussions in relevant parliamentary committees.”
The Report, in more than 50 thematic chapters, describes the everyday reality that citizens faced in 2015, such as:
“It saddens me to say that two days of parliamentary debate in a half-empty Croatian Parliament was dedicated almost exclusively to the discussion on ideological and value differences, rather than problems citizens themselves recognize as important and which they report to us. The result of the vote we see as confirmation that we need to continue to advocate for and propose systemic changes aimed at better protection of human rights and combating discrimination. Citizens’ labour, social, economic and other rights continue to be seriously threatened or violated every day, while discrimination represents a significant problem year after year”, Ombudswoman Vidović stated.
This comes shortly after the five-day visit of Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks at the end of April. In his notes, Mr. Muižnieks said “Social cohesion and pluralism are under threat in Croatia. I urge the authorities to initiate and engage in an open dialogue with all stakeholders in order to protect pluralism and avoid further polarisation in society. Moreover, political leaders need to send an unequivocal message against violence, discrimination and intolerance, in particular against members of national minorities and journalists”.
The acceptance of the Annual Report would have been an important part of that ‘unequivocal message’.
Ombudswoman Lora Vidović hopes that the 160 recommendations in the Report will not remain unnoticed, but will be implemented, in order to ensure higher human rights protection and a stronger fight against discrimination in Croatia. In any case, they will continue to monitor their implementation, while at the same time continuing to work on the challenges they encounter in 2016.
A member of both Equinet, European Network of Equality Bodies, and ENNHRI, European Network of Nathional Human Rights Institions, the Ombudsman is an independent institution established by the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia as a commissioner of the Croatian Parliament. The Ombudsman is also the central equality body responsible for the suppression of discrimination (since 1st January 2009), the national preventive mechanism for the prevention of torture, and an A-level national human rights institution. The general objectives of the work of the Ombudsman are protection and promotion of human rights, while more specific objectives are protection and promotion of the rule of law, principle of non-discrimination and equal treatment, human rights of detained persons and cooperation with all relevant stakeholders.
The Ombudsman protects rights of citizens deriving from the Constitution, legislation and international treaties and documents binding for Croatia. In accordance with the latest Constitutional changes (2010), the New Ombudsman Act was brought in July 2012. The new Act broadened the Ombudsman’s mandate and provided the Ombudsman and deputies with impunity. The new mandate primarily envisaged promotion of human rights and cooperation with general public, civil society organisations, international organizations, academia and media as an important way of engagement.
The Ombudsman has a wide range of duties in the field of suppressing discrimination, including informing the Croatian Parliament on the occurrence of discrimination in her annual and, when required, extraordinary reports. When drawing up regular reports, opinions and recommendations on the occurrence of discrimination, the Ombudsman is obliged by law to consult social partners and civil society organisations dealing with the protection and promotion of human rights, organisations dealing with the protection of groups exposed to a high risk of discrimination, churches and religious organisations entered in the Register of Religious Congregations of the Republic of Croatia on the basis of the Act on the Legal Position of Religious Congregations, and the National Minorities Council.
The Ombudsman is financed by the State budget.
Equinet is the European Network of Equality Bodies. The network promotes equality in Europe through supporting and enabling the work of national equality bodies. It supports equality bodies to be independent and effective as valuable catalysts for more equal societies.
Read the Equinet Working Paper on Developing Standards for Equality Bodies for more details on what standards we envisage for independent and effective equality bodies.