Ombudsman of the Republic of Croatia

The institution of the Ombudsman was introduced into Croatian political and legal system by the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia in the year 1990. Since then, constitutional provisions regulating the status of this institution have been changing, expanding the mandates of the Ombudsman and strengthening its role.

According to the Article 93 of the Constitution, the Ombudswoman of the Republic of Croatia is a commissioner of the Croatian Parliament responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, laws and international legal instruments on human rights and freedoms ratified by the Republic of Croatia. The coming into force of the Anti-discrimination Act extended significantly the mandates of the institution, setting it out as the central equality body in the Republic of Croatia.

A new mandate that of the National Preventive Mechanism, was taken on by the Office in 2012. In the same period the new Ombudsman Act defined and extended the mandate of the Ombudsman institution in the field of promotion of human rights, outreach, research, institutional cooperation as well as in the field of cooperation with civil society organizations. The Act also stipulated the institutional merger of the Human Rights Center with the Office of the Ombudsman in order to enhance the Ombudsman’s capacity for human rights promotion.

The introduced changes enabled the Ombudsman institution to fulfil to a large extent the recommendations issued to it by the UN bodies. The International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC NHRI), UN Human Rights Council’s representative body gathering national human rights institutions, accredited in 2008 the Ombudsman of the Republic of Croatia as an independent national institution for the promotion and protection of human rights with status “A” according to the Paris Principles.

This is the highest possible status, prescribing strict criteria for the institution regarding the independence in carrying out its mandates and competences and strengthening its institutional capacities in the promotion and protection of human rights.

In 2014 the Office of the Ombudswoman opened its first regional offices, in the towns of Rijeka and Osijek. In 2015 another regional office began its work in the city of Split.

As a commissioner of the Croatian Parliament responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms and the performance of the mandates of the National Equality Body as well as the National Preventive Mechanism for the protection of persons deprived of their liberty, the Ombudswoman acts within her competences laid down by the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, the Ombudsman Act, the Anti-discrimination Act and the Act on the National Preventive Mechanism.

If she deems it necessary, she can issue recommendations, opinions, suggestions and warnings to the state bodies, bodies of local and regional self-government units and legal persons vested with public authority as well as to legal and natural persons, in line with the special law. She can request from them all the necessary information, data, explanations and other types of documentation and they are obliged to deliver the requested documentation and/or data within the legally set deadlines.

Lora Vidović is the actual Ombudswoman of the Republic of Croatia. Grouped according to her mandates, the activities of the Ombudswoman include: Human Rights, discrimination, national preventive mechanism.

 

Human Rights 

 

  • examining the complaints of the existence of unlawful practices and irregularities with respect to the work of state bodies, bodies of local and regional self-government units and legal persons vested with public authority,
  • in line with special laws, examining complaints regarding the conduct of legal and natural persons,
  • monitoring the state of human rights and pointing out to the need for their protection • carrying out research and analysis,
  • monitoring the alignment of laws and other regulations with provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia,
  • promoting the alignment of legislation with international and European standards and their consistent application,
  • developing and maintaining the institutional database and relevant documentation,
  • providing information to the public and the relevant stakeholders in a timely and regular manner,
  • actively encouraging and maintaining cooperation with the civil society, international organizations and scientific and research institutions

 

Discrimination 

 

  • receiving reports from all the natural and legal persons,
  • providing necessary information to natural and legal persons with regard to their rights and obligations and to the possibilities of court and other protection,
  • examining individual reports and taking actions falling within her competences required for elimination of discrimination and protection of the rights of discriminated persons (if the court proceedings have not yet been initiated),
  • warning the public about the occurrence of discrimination,
  • with the parties’ consent, conduction mediation with a possibility of reaching an out-of-court settlement,
  • filing criminal charges related to discrimination cases to the competent state attorney’s office,
  • collecting and analyzing statistical data on discrimination cases,
  • informing the Croatian Parliament on the occurrence of discrimination in her annual and, when required, special reports,
  • conducting surveys concerning discrimination, giving opinions and recommendations, and suggesting appropriate legal and strategic solutions to the Government of the Republic of Croatia.

 

National Preventive Mechanism

 

  • visiting places where persons are or may be deprived of their liberty,
  • giving recommendations to the competent government bodies and institutions aimed at improving the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty and their living conditions,
  • making proposals and observations concerning laws and other regulations,
  • cooperation with the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Regarding the human rights protection of the persons deprived of their liberty, the Ombudsman performs a twofold role:

According to the Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman protects the human rights of the persons deprived of their liberty by acting upon individual complaints i.e. the Ombudsman acts after the violation of right has already occurred and the person deprived of liberty has submitted a complaint.

On the other hand, together with two representatives of the academic community and two representatives from non-governmental organizations which conduct activities in the area of human rights protection, the Ombudsman carries out the tasks of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), in line with the provisions of the Act on National Preventive Mechanism against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ANPM) and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). The work of the NPM is proactive, with the aim of improving the treatment and accommodation conditions of the persons deprived of their liberty in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Within the mentioned mandate the Ombudsman does not act on individual complaints; his/her role is preventive so that the infringements do not take place at all.

According to Article 3 of the ANPM, the activities of the National Preventive Mechanism are the following:

  • regular visits to places where persons are or may be deprived of their liberty, aimed at strengthening the protection of these persons from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • giving recommendations to competent government bodies and institutions aimed at improving the treatment and the living conditions of the persons deprived of their liberty, with a view of preventing torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • making proposals and observations concerning the existing laws and regulations or their drafts with a view of enhancing the protection of persons deprived of their liberty against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • cooperation with the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of the Committee against Torture (hereinafter: Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture), providing information and meeting with the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture.

The NPM members are authorized to pay unannounced visits to places and institutions and to examine the facilities where persons deprived of their liberty are held. They have free access to any information concerning these places and institutions, to all information on the number of persons deprived of their liberty and held in the places or institutions which they are visiting as well as to any information concerning the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty, in line with the law. They are entitled to debrief individuals deprived of their liberty with an individual’s consent and without the presence of any officials working at the place or institution of detention as well as to interview other persons who may provide relevant information regarding the suspected violation of human rights in the establishment they are visiting.

Cooperation with various stakeholders

The work of the NPM also encompasses the cooperation with the competent international bodies such as the Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (SPT); the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) and the Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT).

The Ombudsman regularly monitors and takes into consideration the opinions of the aforementioned bodies and provides them with notifications and annual reports on the work of the NPM. Moreover, Croatian NPM maintains permanent cooperation with the South East Europe NPM Network.

Number of Complaints in 2016

Total : 3705

Police complaints : 203

Complaints for people deprived of liberty : 198

The Ombudswoman receives complaints from prisoners, persons with mental disorders or members of their families and those deprived of liberty in police stations, asylum seekers reception centers and Foreigners Reception Centre.

Complaints filed by citizens with regard to actions of police officers during deprivation of one’s liberty mostly pertained to unprofessional and unethical conduct, overstepping one’s authority and biased and selective treatment. In any treatment that involves the use of physical strength and that results in deprivation of one’s liberty, police officers are obligated to invest the maximum level of due care to preserve the dignity of the person at whom such treatment is aimed, keeping in mind that, in the event of error, such treatment represents a violation of the citizens’ constitutional rights.

In accordance with its mandate, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, during 2016 NPM visited 15 police stations and their detention units and reviewed the conditions of accommodation and records of persons deprived of liberty.

The detained persons deprived of their liberty did not have any complaints about the treatment, but it was found that the accommodation conditions were not fully aligned with international standards, which could represent degrading treatment.

Also, it has been found that in some Police Administrations police officers are not familiar with the mandate of the NPM, so they need to be informed and educated in that respect.