Members of the IOI European chapter, chaired by Ombudsman Rafael Ribó, adopted the Barcelona Statement at the seminar on human rights
They defend the need to network to face the common challenges of safeguarding rights and freedoms, particularly to protect the rights of migrants and refugees
Within the framework of the workshop, Catalan President informed he will commission the Catalan Ombudsman to lead a national human rights plan,
The President of the Government of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, has closed on April 4th the second international seminar organized by the Ombudsman to address the human rights challenges in Europe. The meeting, which has brought together forty ombudsmen throughout Europe, has culminated in the ratification of the Barcelona Statement. The document, approved by the members of the European chapter of the International Ombudsman Institute, chaired by Ombudsman Rafael Ribó, denounces restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms occurring in some European countries based on security threats and public order.
In this statement the ombudsmen also undertake to promote and defend human rights and fundamental freedoms, both economic and social as civil and political. They also ask the European Union states to fully comply with their international obligations on human rights, suppressing states of emergency and suspensions of the European Convention when such limitations are not absolutely essential.
They also require the European Union States to host migrants and refugees, in compliance with the proposal of the European Commission of September 2015, and to treat them in full conformity with international and European human rights conventions and standards, with special attention paid to children’s rights and their best interest.
On the second day of the seminar, the EU Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, has highlighted the impact of the Ombudsman in the defense of rights beyond the investigation of individual complaints.
The Ombudsman of Turkey, Seref Malkoç, has addressed the issue of terrorism and has highlighted that European Ombudsmen cannot solve the crisis of refugees and migration in general without networking with ombudsmen throughout the world, especially those from the countries of origin of migrants.
The Spanish Ombudsman Soledad Becerril, has made a public outcry in favor of peace and put on the table the need to end the war in Syria.
The Statement of Spanish regional ombudsmen of February 2017, which urged the Spanish government to expand the reception of refugees, has been the focus of the speech of the Basque Ombudsman, Manuel Lezertua. For its part, the Greek Ombudsman, Andreas Potakkis, has talked about the perception of Greece as a transit point for refugees and the impact of this emergency situation on their rights.
The Ombudsman Rafael Ribó has defended the need of Ombudsman institutions to network at a European and world level to face the common challenges of defending rights and freedoms, particularly to protect the rights of migrants and refugees in their countries of origin, transit and destination.
This is one of the commitments included in the Barcelona Statement, which was presented by the Deputy General, Jaume Saura.
The Catalan Ombudsman will lead a national human rights plan in Catalonia
Within the framework of this seminar, the President of the Government of Catalonia has stated that he will commission the Catalan Ombudsman to lead a national human rights plan, in accordance with international principles and requirements, with a view to an external projection of what is done in Catalonia on human rights.
The election of the Catalan Ombudsman to lead the project is motivated because the institution has the necessary skills and means to carry out this mission, together with national and international experience. To this end, the Catalan Ombudsman will work in conjunction with the Human Rights Institute of Catalonia, the only general body in the field of human rights in Catalonia that enjoys observer status at the United Nations. They also want to open the participation to institutions and social entities that work on the subject.
The Catalan Ombudsman, once constituted as the National Structure of Human Rights (NSHR), in addition to elaborating the plan, would have the functions of monitoring and commenting on the bills, issuing reports and collaborating with third sector entities, among others.
The meeting, held at the Parliament on the 3rd and 4th of April, resumes the debate on the regression of rights launched a year ago by the Catalan Ombudsman
Among the most important speakers are the European Commissioner for Human Rights, the director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and the ombudsmen of France, Poland and the European Union
The Workshop is organized in the framework of the European chapter of the International Ombudsman Institute, chaired by the Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó
The debate will conclude with a statement defending the work against political practices considered populist and the signs of backwards steps in terms of respect for human rights
The president of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, has opened on the 3rd of April the second international seminar organized by the Catalan Ombudsman to address the human rights challenges in Europe. The meeting has brought together around forty ombudsmen from all over Europe in order to discuss and analyze the current situation of human rights in Europe and the actions that can be carried out by the ombudsmen. The workshop will end with a joint statement on the subjects covered according to the considerations that arise in the presentations and during the dialogue among all participants.
The keynote speech, which will be given by the European Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, will focus on the negative impact that the so-called populism has in the protection of rights. In this regard, the growing electoral expectations of ultranationalist and xenophobic parties in Europe accentuate the weakening and the crisis of Western democratic political systems. The director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Michael O'Flaherty, will participate in the debate of this session.
Previously, the opening table has seen the participation of the Spanish Ombudsman, Soledad Becerril; the President of the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI), Peter Tyndal, and the Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó, who has organized the workshop within the IOI, of which he presides the European chapter.
The seminar consists of four sessions. In addition to the first, already mentioned, focused on populism, in the second and third sessions case studies will be presented by the ombudsmen of France and Poland and the European Ombudsman. The fourth session will focus on best practices and the role of the ombudsman in this context.
In April 2016 a first seminar on the situation of human rights in Europe was organized, also by the Catalan Ombudsman. The conclusions and summary of the speeches are available on the web humanrightschallenges.cat.
On 1st February, the Ombudsman of Catalonia, Rafael Ribó, submitted to the President of the Catalan Parliament, Carme Forcadell, the Annual report 2016 and a summary of all resolutions issued, which are available on the Ombudsman's website www.sindic.cat.
Beyond the figures (38,261 people attended, more than 281 ex-officio actions and 18,000 complaints), this report contains a qualitative sample problems and specific situations that require special attention from the Administration.
One of the outstanding data regarding the efficiency of the institution is the reduction of the resolution time of complaints, which stood at 123.4 days, compared to 132.6 days in 2015. The degree of acceptance of resolutions for the first time exceeded 99%.
The work done by the Ombudsman's itinerant office, which in 2016 celebrated its 20 years anniversary since the first visit, is also noteworthy,. Throughout the year it has made 113 departures, which resulted in 1,620 personal visits.
Thus, more than 33% of the complaints and ex-officio actions initiated by the Ombudsman during 2016 are related to issues regarding social policies. This is a higher percentage than in the previous year and follows the dynamics of recent years in which social rights were the main focus of the activities of the Ombudsman.
In this regard, while in macroeconomic terms it seems that Catalonia is emerging from the economic crisis of the recent years, many families still find themselves in vulnerable situations. This requires the commitment of the authorities to prioritize social policies affecting social services, public health and education or access to housing, among others.
The 2016 report also highlights the shortcomings in regulations and the excessive procedures that prevent the full exercise of rights in several areas.
The Ombudsman has recommended, for example, that the process of accessing to benefits regarding energy poverty, minimum income and dependency law be simplified. The difficulties and the lack of administrative procedures also affect the fulfilment of rights in terms of citizen participation on public projects or access to social housing.
The need for a bank account to receive the benefit of the minimum income should reconsidered
This year, among other things, the need for a bank account to benefit from the minimum income has been dealt with. The regulations of this benefit contain no specific provision regarding the method of payment.
Given that the minimum income is a benefit aimed at individuals and families with no economic means to cover basic needs, the cost of a bank account can be inconvenient.
Therefore, beneficiaries should not be prevented from using other forms of payment and, if necessary, appropriate legislative changes should be implemented to make it possible.
Vulnerability of children
In 2016 131 ex-officio actions related to children and adolescents have been initiated. Some of these actions have been highlighted by the gravity of the facts analysed, such the case of sexual abuses in a religious school.
In recent months the complaints received by the Ombudsman and the actions carried out have also focused on the conditions of the unaccompanied migrant children in foster care homes.
The problem of bullying, discrimination and violence affecting adolescents LGBT (homosexual, transsexual) in schools has also been handled.
The Ombudsman has also led the fight against school segregation and has submitted two reports that show that this phenomenon erodes the principle of equity. This work culminated in 2017 with a joint approach of the Ombudsman, the Catalan Department of Education, the Parliament and the educational community to implement measures in order to address it.
The complaints about discrimination have tripled
The complaints about possible discrimination, although they are still insignificant quantitatively, have tripled from previous year (14 to 51). This certainly cannot be attributed to a worsening of the situation compared to other terms, but to a greater awareness of the Ombudsman as guarantor of equal rights.
In the field of gender equality, on the other hand, the Ombudsman has dealt with complaints regarding the behaviour of private entities as well as administrations.
The right to rest
The intervention of the Ombudsman in handling complaints has actively contributed to an improvement. But there are still shortcomings and room for improvement. The complaints regarding the noise caused by nightlife have increased and were the object of a monographic report.
Among others, the main recommendation of the report is that the right of residents to rest and live without excessive noise and nuisance should be leading the public policies and actions of the authorities in the field of leisure and tourism.
Legal instruments that guarantee the right to a real second chance and an adequate response to social emergencies should be implemented
Faced with the decision of the State Government to bring an action of unconstitutionality against certain provisions of Law 24/2015, of 29 July, on urgent measures to deal with the emergency in the field of housing and energy poverty, the Ombudsman initiated an ex-officio action.
Given the current situation, the Ombudsman reiterates the need of legal instruments that allow, on the one hand, the right of overindebted people to a second chance, real and effective; and, on the other hand, an immediate response before social and economic emergencies regarding housing, which necessarily should include the resettlement of the affected people, their social support and the need to promote their labour reinsertion.
The excess of slurry has led to environmental degradation, affecting aquifers and springs that are contaminated by nitrates
The contamination of water by excess nitrates from slurry is a complex problem. In a report submitted to Catalan Parliament, the Ombudsman has issued some recommendations such us to apply a moratorium to the granting of authorizations to install new pig farms in counties with nitrate saturation if the new regulations are not approved within a six-month period.
Also an action plan should be drafted in which the sector and affected administrations take part with the objective of immediately recovering the contaminated aquifers.
It is urgent to establish the appropriate legal framework for municipalities to regularize illegal housing developments
One of the complaints raised by people living in illegal housing developments is the impossibility of formalizing permanent supply contracts.
In urban residential areas with deficits is essential to take measures to facilitate the solutions and provide local councils with appropriate legal framework to enable them to address the regularization of these sectors.
The administration should ensure transparency in the process of urban planning
When it comes to the processing of urban plans, the transparency and the participation of both local authorities and affected individuals should be strengthened.
It must be born in mind that these planning figures are intended to facilitate the urban implementation of territorial policies. In this regard, it is obvious that it has implications for the environment, the quality of life, the landscape, resources, among others.
However, there are not co-operation means such as participation programmes or advisory boards for local urban planning schemes. In this sense, the Government Administration should be especially careful to inform thoroughly, allow the contribution of suggestions and proposals, evaluate them adequately and, if necessary, create monitoring committees made up of experts, associations, organizations and representatives of the authorities concerned.
Legislation to protect natural areas must be reviewed
Following the works of paving and settlement of a track in the Montseny park, which would complete the second phase of the plan promoted by the town of Montseny connecting the roads BV-5301 and BV-5114, the Ombudsman has recommended that a discussion be held in parliament on the real protection of natural areas through legislation.
To achieve a greater guarantee of safeguard of specially protected areas, the Parliament of Catalonia should revise the legislation on national parks and protected areas and the Government should be the only one authorizing projects that directly affect the protected area.
Priority should be given to the rehabilitation of most degraded areas
The lack of resources from public and private administrations during these years of economic crisis has had an impact on conservation, maintenance and improvement of the cities, which has resulted in the deterioration of the environment.
In a context of economic recovery, the government should concentrate its efforts on rehabilitation, regeneration and urban renewal, and intervene to ensure the quality of life and social welfare through an appropriate environment. The actions of recovery and improvement should be especially intense in the most degraded, obsolete or vulnerable urban areas.
A thousand complaints from the Citizen Platform Trens Dignes Terres de l'Ebre-Priorat
Train Platform Terres de l'Ebre-Priorat raised nearly a thousand complaints that demanded improvements in regional services (lines R15 and R16) of the Terres de l'Ebre Priorat.
Complaints demanded a reduction of tariffs, which was implemented in January 2016, and improved frequencies, which has resulted in the inclusion, since 6th September 2016, of a new train R16 from Tortosa to Barcelona.
Also, since 12 November 2016 eight Euromed train services stop at the station of L’Aldea.
Measures to ensure supplies to vulnerable people
The conference on basic supplies hosted by the Ombudsman showed the need to find solutions in this area. One of the conclusion was the lack of a legal definition of vulnerable consumer, which should take into account the parameters of consumption, housing and social indicators, and companies should be coordinated with social services, apply social tariffs and report anomalous consumption.
Discount rate for butane gas consumption
The Ombudsman has suggested that a discount rate in butane gas consumption be established for consumers in vulnerable situations.
In this regard, the institution has asked the Spanish Ombudsman to resume the actions initiated at the request of the Catalan Ombudsman before the General Directorate of Energy and Mines to establish a discount rate in butane gas for consumers in a vulnerable situation.
Reduction of VAT in funeral services
Regarding the funeral services sector, the Ombudsman has proposed that the a legislative amendment that reduces VAT of funeral services be undertaken by the Government.
The proposal to establish a basic funeral service at a fixed price and the promotion of mediation and arbitration to resolve conflicts with the users are also noteworthy elements that funeral services enterprises have committed to undertake, in order to allow a better guarantee of the rights of individuals, especially those groups considered needing a special protection for their vulnerability.
Interadminsitrative meetings to handle street selling
The Ombudsman, following a report on the situation of street selling, has hosted interadminsitrative meetings with the participation of several municipalities. Within the framework of these meetings, it was stressed that the coordinated intervention of the tax administration and the security forces of the Catalan Government and state was crucial. The Catalan ombudsman wants to facilitate the search for solutions coordinated by the authorities and, therefore, there was an emphasis on the importance of campaigns to raise awareness of consumers, in line of the proposals included in the report.
In July 2016 it was 80th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War, an event that has served to revive democratic political memory that had been languishing in recent years. The Ombudsman opened an ex-officio action, based on the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition, and asked both Catalan and Spanish government public policies and measures to be taken for reparation, such annulments of judgments taken in violation of fundamental principles of law and due process or the removal of monuments and symbols of the dictatorship in the Catalan territory.
At this point, it should be welcomed the initiative of three departments of the Catalan Government to launch a program of genetic identification of remains of missing people during the Civil War and Francoism. However, there has been no answer from the Spanish the Ministry of Justice, which in any case will be receiving the suggestions that the Ombudsman deems appropriate. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the UN has been informed about all these actions.
Some legislative changes adopted in 2015 at a state level, such as the Spanish organic law of public safety or the reform of the Spanish organic law of the Constitutional Court, have generated numerous situations that can be interpreted as attacks against freedom of expression and other fundamental rights and freedoms and the failure of compliance with the European principles regarding freedoms and social rights.
Many of these cases have taken place in Catalonia, so the Ombudsman will write a report in terms of rights and freedoms to determine, according European standards, if the situation can be described as regressive in this matter. This concern is not only related to Catalonia and Spain, but also to Europe. In this sense, the international seminar organized by the Catalan Ombudsman to be held in Barcelona in April 2017 will be focusing on the regression of rights and the role of the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman proposes to act in arbitration cases where the services can affect basic consumer rights
The institution urges the authorities to speed up the procedures of this new legal framework in line with the European Directive 2013
A workshop with the employers has been organized to analyse the current situation and the need of transposing the Directive
The need that Spanish Administration and, if appropriate, the Catalan Administration, speed up the transposition of the European Directive on alternative dispute resolution in the sphere of consumption (ADR) has become clear that Thursday 19 January at a conference organized by the Ombudsman and the employers at the headquarters of the ombudsman institution in Barcelona.
Given the special protection required by consumers of basic services of general interest, in the framework of the conference, the role that the Ombudsman should have in the alternative of conflict resolution (ADR) affecting consumer services and basic services of general interest has also been discussed.
The new law will also preserve the independent nature of organisms that act as mediators.
According to the Ombudsman, the impact of the new regulations on the rights of people to basic services of general interest needs to be considered, since the position of the consumer is not the same as in a standard consumption relation. The Catalan legislature has considered this peculiarity in the Consumer Code, which gives consumers basic services a special protection.
Among the issues covered there is the presentation of the program of activities for the next two years
The office of the Ombudsman of Catalonia welcomed Wednesday 30th November the European representatives of the benchmark ombudsman organization, the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI).
The European IOI Board, whose president is Rafael Ribó for the next four years after receiving the support of his counterparts in a recent vote, include eighty ombudsman institutions across the continent. The Irish ombudsman, Peter Tyndall, who was recently elected president of global IOI, is also part of the Board. During the meeting in Barcelona, the Belgian federal ombudsman, Catherine Bruecker, has been appointed European vice president with unanimity.
The other members of European board are Italian ombudsman, Lucia Franchini; the Welsh ombudsman, Nick Bennet; the Estonian ombudsman, Ulle Madise, and the Dutch ombudsman, Reinier van Zutphen.
Among the topics discussed, there is the presentation and approval of the program of action for the upcoming two years, with special attention to refugees and the rights situation in Turkey, Poland and Romania, as well as initiatives for workshops and training seminars and the ability to expand the organization and to include new members.
It has also been decided that the next European Conference, scheduled for 2018, will be held in Brussels (Belgium) in witch topics such as access to information, democracy and international standards will be discussed.