The Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia
The institution of the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia (hereinafter referred to as: the Ombudsman) was introduced into the Slovenian constitutional order through the new Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia, which was adopted in December 1991. The Ombudsman is defined by Article 159 of the RS Constitution. His constitutional role is to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals in relation to state authorities, local self-government authorities, and bearers of public authority. It is a special constitutional category which does not fall under the executive, judicial, or legislative branch of power.
In December 1993, the Slovenian National Assembly adopted the Human Rights Ombudsman Act (entered into force in January 1994), which lays down the powers and jurisdiction and sets out the legal basis for establishing the Ombudsman, which officially started work on 1 January 1995.
Upon the proposal of the President of the Republic of Slovenia, the Ombudsman is elected by the Slovenian Parliament. The parliament also elects two to four Deputy Ombudsmen at the Ombudsman’s recommendation. In his work the Ombudsman is not limited to handling direct violations, although this is one of his main activities. The powers of the Human Rights Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia are determined by the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia (Article 159), the Human Rights Ombudsman Act, and 23 sectoral acts.
Mr Peter Svetina is the current Ombudsman of the Republic of Slovenia.
Powers, Competences, Mission
The Ombudsman is an independent institution which contributes to the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Slovenia on a local and national level through the investigation of the complaints, submission of opinions, and recommendations to any authority, addressing pressing human rights issues, conducting on-site inspections, human rights education, and research, through cooperation with civil society organisations as well as through own initiatives and statements on legislative proposals.
Article 9 of the Human Rights Ombudsman Act stipulates that anyone who believes that their human rights or fundamental freedoms have been violated by an act of an authority may file a complaint to initiate proceedings with the Ombudsman; we at the Ombudsman may also instigate proceedings on our own accord; the Ombudsman may also address wider issues relevant to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to legal certainty in the Republic of Slovenia. Within our competences we at the Ombudsman also hold a mandate to deal with complaints relating to police procedures and visits to police stations. Every year the Ombudsman handles approximately 100 cases of such complaints. All proceedings conducted by the Ombudsman are informal and free-of charge for the parties involved. The Ombudsman conducts proceedings impartially and considers the positions of all the affected parties in each case.
Furthermore, the Ombudsman may also initiate before the Constitutional Court a procedure for the review of the constitutionality or legality of regulations (more than 30 such requests made thus far), as well as filing constitutional complaints concerning violations of human rights or fundamental freedoms in individual cases before state or local authorities or holders of public powers.
Fields of work
Vulnerable groups discussed: freedom of conscience and religious communities; national and ethnic communities; employed and unemployed persons; women; children; disabled; elderly; LGBTI+; foreigners
Substantive fields discussed: equality before the law and prohibition of discrimination; protection of dignity; personal rights, safety and privacy; freedom of expression; assembly, association and participation in the management of public affairs; restriction of personal liberty; pension and disability insurance; healthcare; social matters; other administrative matters; judicial system; police proceedings, private security services, detectives and traffic wardens; environment and spatial planning, regulated activities; social activities; housing matters
Status accreditation according to the Paris Principles
In January 2021 the Ombudsman received “A” status accreditation according to the Paris Principles, which relate to the status and functioning of national human rights institutions. This is the highest attainable status according to the Principles, which were adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993. It has therefore been officially confirmed, including at the international level, that the Ombudsman meets the highest performance standards of an independent national institution for the protection and promotion of human rights. The Ombudsman has been working intensively towards acquiring “A” status since 2015. The relevant legal framework for this was the Act Amending the Human Rights Ombudsman Act (ZVarCP-B), adopted by the Parliament in 2017, with which the Ombudsman’s competence in education and promotion of human rights was extended and the establishing of the Human Rights Centre and the Human Rights Council as an advisory body were stipulated.
The Centre for Human Rights, the Human Rights Ombudsman Council, Child Advocacy
The main objective of the amendments was to strengthen the mandate of the Ombudsman with the aim to provide the legal bases for a general mandate, which includes the protection and promotion of human rights. For this reason, the Centre for Human Rights was established in 2019 within the Ombudsman’s Office. It has a general mandate and its tasks include promotion; providing information, education, and training; preparation of analyses and reports from individual fields associated with the facilitation and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms; organising consultations on the implementation, facilitation, and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms; co-operation with civil society, trade unions, and state authorities; providing general information on the types of complaints to international organisations for violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms; and cooperation in international organisations and associations, at the European and the global level, which are active in the implementation, facilitation, and development of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The aim of the law was primarily to strengthen the plurality aspect of the Ombudsman through the establishment of the Human Rights Ombudsman Council, the role of which is advisory. The Human Rights Ombudsman Council was established in 2018 as the Ombudsman’s consultative body. It functions on the basis of the principle of plurality, professionalism, and autonomy and may address any human rights issue on its own initiative. It consists of a president and sixteen members (including seven representatives of civil society and three representatives of the scientific community).
In 2017 another important step was made concerning the legislative regulation of child advocacy, which has been managed as a pilot project in the Ombudsman’s office for a whole decade, since 2007. In September 2017, the Act Amending the Human Rights Ombudsman Act (ZVarCP-B) was adopted and came into force in early October 2017. This Act defines child advocacy as an independent organisational unit of the Ombudsman. In this way, we are able to provide all children who need an advocate with expert help to express their opinions in all proceedings and cases they are part of. The advocate will submit the child’s opinion to the competent authorities who decide on the child’s rights and benefits.
Every year the Ombudsman publishes its own and the National Preventive Mechanism’s annual reports. In every annual report there is always also a special chapter covering the handling of complaints relating to police procedures. The Ombudsman submits annual reports to the Parliament of the Republic of Slovenia in which he evaluates the state of human rights violations by the authorities, explains his activities and findings, and makes recommendations to the authorities. The Report is publicly discussed each year at the Plenary Session of the Parliament. The latest Annual Report can be found here.
National Preventive Mechanism (NPM)
The Ombudsman has also been functioning for more than 10 years now as the National Preventive Mechanism (Article 50c) in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The task of each NPM is to visit all locations in the country where persons are deprived of their liberty and inspect how such persons are treated in order to strengthen their protection against torture and other cruel, inhuman, or humiliating treatment or punishment. While observing suitable legal norms, the NPM makes recommendations to the relevant authorities to improve the conditions and treatment of people and prevent torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In this regard, the NPM may also submit proposals and comments to the applicable or drafted acts. Important additional tasks and powers were entrusted to the Ombudsman in 2006 by means of the Act ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (MOPPM). We are certain that one of the reasons the Ombudsman has been entrusted with the additional duties and powers of the NPM was the care the Ombudsman has constantly dedicated to discussing complaints received from imprisoned persons, as well as its preventive role in this field, i.e., by the formed and established manner of operation when visiting facilities where persons deprived of their liberty are accommodated. Its independence (functional, personal and financial) is also important in this regard, and this is ensured with the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia and the Human Rights Ombudsman Act.
As Slovenian NPM we also hold the mandate to monitor the work of the Police.
In 2021, we visited 21 police stations (PS); all visits were unannounced. During our visits, we inspected the premises used by each police station for the treatment and accommodation of persons deprived of their liberty who were detained or held in police custody, and spoke to persons who were in police custody or detention at the time of our visit to find out what the police officers’ procedures were in relation to them. We also spoke to police officers and checked individual (randomly selected) cases of detention procedures. We also regularly followed up on the implementation of recommendations from the previous visit to each police station. During the visits in 2021, we were also able to see that the police stations are implementing the recommendations of the NPM.
When visiting police stations in 2021, 142 new recommendations were given, of which 44 were individual and 98 were general. The recommendations related to activities (two recommendations), living conditions (41 recommendations), records and documentation (49 recommendations), treatment and forms of work (19 recommendations), staff (three recommendations), legal protection and channels of redress (21 recommendations), food (three recommendations), and in general (four recommendations).
Out of a total of 142 recommendations, three have been accepted and implemented, 44 were accepted and not yet implemented, and 15 were not accepted.
The above shows that many of the recommendations of the NPM have been accepted and implemented, and that only those that require more time or financial resources to implement or remedy have not yet been implemented.
More on the work of the Slovenian NPM can be found in the latest NPM report available here.
In 2021 we dealt with 6,863 cases (6,852 in 2020 and 4,600 in 2019), which denotes more than a 33 per cent increase in the number of cases than in the period before the COVID-19 pandemic. The cases referred to measures and questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic and also other aspects of violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms not connected to COVID-19. A total of 1,179 cases referred directly to COVID-19 in 2021, which is somewhat less than in 2020 when the number of cases totalled 1,414; index 21/22 thus amounted to somewhat more than 83%.
In 2021, we dealt with 3,720 complaints, of which 475 or 14.62% were justified, including 221 which referred to child advocacy. Among 349 other justified complaints, 276 violations of human rights, fundamental freedoms, and other irregularities were determined, such as the violation of equality before the law and the principle of good administration, a total which is considerably lower than in 2020 when, among 364 justified complaints, as many as 473 violations were established. Based on all our activities in 2021 of dealing with complaints, addressing broader substantive issues (we addressed six complaints at our own initiative in 2021 and 77 broader issues), operating several organisational units, conducting visits, and preparing expert analyses, studies, and opinions, we issued a total of 86 new recommendations, of which:
- 52 recommendations which in general, frequently on the systemic level, concern society and the observance of human rights in society,
- an additional 25 recommendations represent ongoing tasks by various authorities and
- 9 COVID-19 recommendations, i.e. recommendations that refer directly to the measures connected to COVID-19 (many recommendations issued during the year about the COVID-19 measures are no longer relevant because the regulations and measures to contain and control the COVID-19 epidemic changed very rapidly and we need not repeat them here again).
In 2021, we issued fewer recommendations than in 2020. However, considering the large number of unrealised recommendations and those still relevant from the past, there is still a lot of work ahead of the competent authorities in the future.
|Head of Institution||Peter Svetina, Human Rights Ombudsman|
|Address||Dunajska cesta 56
1109 Ljubljana, Slovenia
|Year of establishment||1993 (the Ombudsman officially started work on 1 January 1995)|
|Telephone||+386 1 475 00 50|
|Number of staff||53|