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 and the Act on Whistleblowers Protection.
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 and whistleblowers protection.
• 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
• 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
• receiving disclosures related to an act of wrongdoing
• investigating individual disclosures
• transferring disclosures to the bodies authorised for undertaking procedures
• making reports evaluating if the constitutional or legal rights of the whistleblowers are being violated
• providing general legal advice to the whistleblowers related to their rights
• protecting the whistleblowers’ identity and reported data if not contrary to the law
• reporting to the Croatian parliament about the whistleblowers protection within the annual report and special reports
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, 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). In performing the National Preventive Mechanism, the Ombudsman cooperates with associations, other independent experts and special ombudsmen if is necessary.
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 2018
Police complaints : 152
See 2018 annual report here.
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.
The complaints mostly dealt with omissions in the proceeding, unprofessional and unethical treatment of citizens and, as in previous years, a significant number of complaints addressed overstepping of authority in procedures involving the use of force and resulting in deprivation of liberty. Despite earlier recommendations and warnings that in procedures involving the use of force and resulting in deprivation of liberty, police officers had to pay special attention to protect dignity of the affected person and that they should use force only proportionately and to the degree necessary to put under control persons who acted violently and/or in an agitated manner, the complaints received and investigative procedures that we carried out, clearly show that this was still not the case.
In line with mandate of preventing torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, in 2018, the NPM visited 20 police stations The majority of the NPM visits were regular. NPM conducted two follow-up visits and two night visits. As a follow up, 64 recommendations and four warnings were issued. Generally speaking, accommodation conditions do not meet the necessary standards and some of the police stations do not have designated funds for foods. The CPT’s 2018 Report for Croatia states that the majority of persons deprived of liberty indicated that they had been treated correctly by police officers; however, there were several allegations of physical ill-treatment by police officers at the time of their arrest and while in detention, consistent with the medical evidence. Bearing in mind that these allegations were made also during the NPM visits, efficient and effective investigation should be carried out in line with the ECtHR case law to rule out any possibility of potential abuse or degrading treatment.