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Ombudswoman points to continued failings

THE RIGHT of Roma and Ruthenian children to a pre-school education and a closer look at the availability of legal help for foreigners placed in the Police Detention Facilities for Foreigners in Medveďov and Sečovce have made it onto the list of priorities of Slovakia’s ombudswoman, Jana Dubovcová, for 2013. Dubovcová was elected on December 13, 2011, after an unsuccessful bid in 2002, to replace Pavel Kandráč, whose second term in the role of ombudsman expired in March 2012. After completing her first year of service, Dubovcová said that her office had changed its perception of the needs of society, since she does not base her work entirely on written complaints from the public.

Jana Dubovcová(Source: SITA)

THE RIGHT of Roma and Ruthenian children to a pre-school education and a closer look at the availability of legal help for foreigners placed in the Police Detention Facilities for Foreigners in Medveďov and Sečovce have made it onto the list of priorities of Slovakia’s ombudswoman, Jana Dubovcová, for 2013. Dubovcová was elected on December 13, 2011, after an unsuccessful bid in 2002, to replace Pavel Kandráč, whose second term in the role of ombudsman expired in March 2012. After completing her first year of service, Dubovcová said that her office had changed its perception of the needs of society, since she does not base her work entirely on written complaints from the public.

“There is a huge difference in creating the image of the protection of human rights from behind a table and when these are checked in the field,” Dubovcová told The Slovak Spectator.

Last year, Dubovcová, a former senior judge and recipient of a civic courage award, focused on court delays, and back in November 2012 suggested that the Justice Ministry draft and publish a list of backlogged courts and allocate material and personnel reinforcements to these courts in order to remedy the situation.

Though Dubovcová initiated several inquiries into offices of state bodies to see whether basic rights and freedoms were being respected there, the outcome was rather pessimistic: “It is a paradox that when we go to institutions we really find serious failings”, she said as quoted by SITA newswire.

Nevertheless, parliament refused to approve an annual report Dubovcová submitted in March on the activities of her office, based on a proposal by former labour minister and current Smer MP Viera Tomanová, who said the report was drafted inadequately. Nevertheless, Dubovcová argues that parliament was not entitled to reject the report.

“I believe that with this report you are undermining public confidence that you even have the skills, experience and moral competence to hold this office,” Tomanová said, as quoted by TASR.

Dubovcová was the first high-ranking state servant to question the procedure of Slovak authorities in cases of children who were taken from their parents abroad, arguing that she “pointed to specific failures of the state [and] loopholes in the socio-legal protection of children”. Shortcomings were also found during the period when Tomanová was the labour minister, the Sme daily wrote in association with her report on March 23.

“The Slovak Parliament does not have the constitutional or legal authority to return the ombudsman her report for completion,” Dubovcová told The Slovak Spectator in response to the act, explaining that the law stipulates that the goal of the report is to offer deputies an overview into the ombudswoman’s findings in the area of protection of rights and to submit draft recommendations.

It is then up to parliament to decide how to use the information, Dubovcová said, adding that in fact parliament’s decision to return the report to her is not binding, since “there is no superior and subordinate relation between the ombudsman and parliament”.

“Thus, I have taken notice of this decision,” Dubovcová said.

Dubovcová, a nominee of opposition parties the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), Most-Híd and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), proposed several measures in her report, for example, more field social workers and a reduction of red tape for them. She also wants to establish a house of human rights where her office, the Slovak National Centre for Human Rights, the Centre of Law Assistance and the Nation’s Memory Institute, would reside. All these institutions have encountered problems with their residence. The office of the public defender of rights pays over €220,000 in rent to the firm UTAR Technologické Centrum, which belongs to the family of former chairman of the Slovak National Party (SNS) Víťazoslav Moric, Sme reported.

The ombudswoman's plans

Dubovcová, who had planned to run on the SDKÚ slate in the 2012 March parliamentary elections but then gave up her list position, said that after assessing one year in her office and several serious findings, she has formulated not only recommendations for parliament but also set her priorities for 2013.

Dubovcová’s office will take a closer look at the availability of legal help for foreigners placed at the Police Detention Facilities for Foreigners in Medveďov and Sečovce. When asked about this particular priority, Dubovcová said that “several NGOs turned to the office of the ombudsman, pointing to the fact that the situation has worsened in the provision and availability of legal help for foreigners who are placed in these facilities”.

“It is necessary to check the real situation in this area,” Dubovcová told The Slovak Spectator.
Next year Dubovcová should also focus on the proceedings of state bodies, regional governments and local authorities during forced expulsions from residences, as well as the rights of teenagers placed in re-education centres.

“I consider all these topics serious and most of them emerged based on our experience in 2012,” Dubovcová has said.

Dubovcová, when asked about an eventual chart of institutions with the most serious problems respecting the law, named the offices of social-legal protection followed by the social insurer Sociálna Poisťovňa, as well as the regular courts.

Nevertheless, she has also said that complaints submitted by citizens suggest that the most frequently violated basic right is the right to a court proceeding without unnecessary delays.
“[Those] who live in Slovakia must know that this right is also being violated, but certainly this is not necessarily the most violated right,” she concluded, as quoted by SITA.

Radka Minarechová contributed to this story

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