Current events: news and press releases

The Catalan Ombudsman raises to the Council of Europe the possible violation of rights of the decision of the Court of Auditors

15/10/2021

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This issue has been raised to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Commissioner for Human Rights

The Catalan Ombudsman recalls the references to the legal provisions for embezzlement in the Resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

The Catalan Ombudsman, in view of the decision of the rapporteur of the Court of Auditors (Tribunal de Comptes) refusing to accept the public guarantees established in a decision with the status of law to face the bail imposed on 34 former high-ranking officials of the Catalan Government for an amount of 5.4 million euros for alleged undue expenses:

First, the Catalan Ombudsman expresses his surprise that an administrative body does not respect a regulation with the status of law fully in force, such as a decree law already validated by the Parliament of Catalonia.

Second, the Catalan Ombudsman recalls the opinion of the Council of Statutory Guarantees (Consell de Garanties Estatutàries) in favour of the constitutionality of said guarantee.

Third, the Catalan Ombudsman recalls that according to Civil Procedural Act, to which the Court of Auditors refers, the guarantee must be of indefinite duration and payable on first request, issued by a credit institution or mutual guarantee company or by any other means that, in the opinion of the Court, guarantees the immediate availability, where appropriate, of the amount concerned. Such requirements are met by the Catalan Finance Institute's (Institut Català de Finances) guarantee.

Fourth, the Catalan Ombudsman will refer the matter to the Spanish Ombudsman (Defensor del Pueblo) to intervene in view of the serious violation of rights and the lack of protection that this decision represents.

Fifth, the Catalan Ombudsman will bring this situation to the attention of the Council of Europe, in particular the Parliamentary Assembly and the European Commissioner for Human Rights, so that they can also intervene to defend rights and the rule of law.

The Catalan Ombudsman recalls the Resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, according to which it must be ensured that the legal provisions for embezzlement of public funds are applied in such a way that liabilities are only enforceable when real quantified losses to the budget or to the State’s assets can be established.

Likewise, the Catalan Ombudsman recalls that its recent report on The granting of a partial pardon to the persons sentenced by Ruling 459/2019 of the Supreme Court has warned that the financial penalties imposed by The Court of Auditors imply that the persons under investigation are condemned to ruin, even before a sentence and despite the fact that many of the people now being prosecuted have already been tried at the highest jurisdictional level for the offence of embezzlement. For this reason, and in line with the recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Catalan Ombudsman believes that the Court of Auditors should suspend the processing of these cases.

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The Catalan Ombudsman calls for a review of existing educational instruments to prevent, detect and address any form of racism in schools

06/08/2021

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Most cases are not reported, which makes it difficult to detect the phenomenon

The communication circuit of situations of racial discrimination must be simple, clear and easy to understand

It is necessary to provide educational staff with training on racial equality

Following a complaint received about the alleged racist harassment suffered by an eleven-year-old child in a school, the Catalan Ombudsman opened an ex officio action to study the mechanisms of prevention and action in the education field against attitudes and behaviours of hatred, stigma, and racism among and toward children, their families, or any member of the educational community.

The Catalan Ombudsman states that unfortunately, except on rare occasions, minors affected by racial discrimination, probably out of fear, do not report the situation, nor do they seek the support of adults, and neither do their families. And this fact contributes to the difficulty of detecting harassment or discrimination, which remain invisible or even sometimes "normalized". Therefore, the absence of complaints or denunciations is not always an indication of the non-existence of these attitudes but rather of the lack of detection of racist situations. This is why the Catalan Ombudsman requests that the study of this specific case be an opportunity for the education Administration to reflect on the practices that are necessary and consider the need to ensure additional training for members of the education Administration and the school on the subject of racial discrimination and the importance of an active and committed intervention in the best interest of the child.

The Catalan Ombudsman recalls that the Department of Education has sufficient tools and services - protocol for prevention, detection and intervention regarding harassment and cyberbullying among peers, protocol against hate conducts and discrimination, school and intercultural mediation programs, etc.- but that these tools must be effectively known by teachers and used for the benefit of children. The Catalan Ombudsman also reminds that the education Administration must network and that, when appropriate, it can request collaboration to other services, resources or specialized entities in order to address specific issues.

The Catalan Ombudsman calls for the convenience of establishing a simple, clear and understandable circuit for children and their families to act against harassment and racial discrimination and to communicate them, and to ensure that any communication of this nature by the child is dealt with confidentially and with the maximum sensitivity and expertise, in order to prevent secondary victimization to the child for having reported it.

It also suggests that, through a participatory process, and with the help of experts if deemed necessary, organizational documents of schools and any other regulatory documents are reviewed, so that they convey a clear message of zero tolerance towards any form of racial discrimination in schools. In this sense, the Catalan Ombudsman also states the need to guarantee the transparency and accessibility of this documentation and protocols, and to guarantee its publication and easy communication to all families (especially vulnerable families with language barriers).

As for students, the Catalan Ombudsman advocates for promoting intercultural education with the aim of preparing citizens so that they can develop in a plural, diverse and egalitarian society. According to the institution, it is possible to prevent hate conduct and discrimination if families and schools work together on the cognitive, emotional and social skills of children and young adults, as well as on education based on children’s rights.

As for teaching professionals, the Catalan Ombudsman emphasizes that the lack of specific training in racial discrimination and equality can be an important barrier to detect and address racism and discrimination, which leaves racialized students vulnerable and without the necessary protection. Therefore, it is essential to provide education and leisure professionals with training in racial equality and discrimination.

Regarding legislation, the Catalan Ombudsman recalls that the Council of Europe points out that the legislator's action against racism and racial discrimination plays an important educational role in society by convincingly conveying the message that no attempt to legitimize racism and racial discrimination will be tolerated in a society governed by the rule of law. And, in this sense, the Catalan Ombudsman asks the Department of Education to review current regulations and educational instruments in order to introduce more specific instruments and circuits or assess whether it is appropriate to adopt a manifesto or a commitment of all schools in Catalonia to prevent, detect and address any form of racism, microracism, xenophobia or discrimination, with a clear message of zero tolerance for racist or xenophobic behaviour in school.

Finally, when there are components of racism in harassment, the Catalan Ombudsman considers that investigations should be carried out by qualified professionals who have received specific training to ensure a sensitive approach based on the rights of the child.

 

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Representatives of the Young Advisors Council discuss at the ENYA Forum on the impact of COVID-19 on children's and adolescents' rights

06/07/2021

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From the work of these two days, several recommendations have emerged related to the fields of education, prevention of violent situations, mental health, poverty, new technologies and play and recreational activities

They also call for more child and youth mental health resources to meet current needs

The Catalan Ombudsman's Young Advisors Council, represented by Àngela Valldepérez and Joan Boixaderas, took part in the ENYA Forum, which this year was organised by Malta on 1-2 July, under the title "Let's Talk Young, Let's Talk about the Impact of COVID-19 on Children's Rights".

ENYA (European Network of Young Advisors) is a participatory project for children and adolescents that is carried out with the support of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC). The purpose of this network is to bring together the young people involved with ENOC members and to facilitate the transmission of their opinions linked to the annual ENOC work theme.

The participating boys and girls from different European territories (Albania, Andalusia, the Basque Country, Bulgaria, Catalonia, Scotland, France, Wales, Greece, Northern Ireland, Iceland, Iceland, Italy, Malta, Montenegro, Norway, the Basque Country, Slovakia and Ukraine) discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the rights of children and adolescents.

As a result of the joint work, they have collected several recommendations related to the fields of education, prevention of violence, mental health, poverty, new technologies, and play and recreational activities, among which it is worth highlighting the desire to improve student participation, taking into account that the pandemic crisis highlighted this systemic deficiency, improve online learning and take measures to avoid the exclusion of pupils with special educational needs, and also to respond to the needs of pupils and their families for accompaniment and support.

They also stated the need to adopt measures for the provision of prevention and support services for all forms of violence in exceptional situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic that may occur again, to guarantee a holistic system of child protection and an immediate response that prevents secondary victimisation of children, as well as more child and adolescent mental health resources to provide an adequate response to the needs of children and adolescents.

The young people also coincided in demanding that institutions take measures to guarantee the participation of children and adolescents in decision-making on issues related to them in similar situations.

It has been a very intense and profitable two days for the participants, an opportunity to express their opinions and to feel listened to.

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The Catalan Ombudsman investigates the death of an inmate at Brians II prison

25/06/2021

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The institution will request information from the Department of Justice on the events

It also opened an ex officio action in order to look into the homophobic aggression suffered by two people on Saint John’s Eve

The Catalan Ombudsman has learned through the media of the death of an inmate at the Brians II Penitentiary Center. According to the published news, the body of the inmate was found by prison staff last Wednesday, June 23rd.

In this context, the Catalan Ombudsman asks the Secretary General for Criminal Measures, Reinsertion and Victim Assistance, of the Department of Justice, to inform the institution as soon as possible on the circumstances surrounding these events and the measures taken to investigate the case.

An ex officio action has also been opened to study a serious homophobic aggression

At the same time, the Catalan Ombudsman has also opened an ex officio investigation into the homophobic attack that took place on Saint John’s eve in Gràcia neighborhood, in Barcelona. According to the information published, two people were attacked because of their sexual orientation and had to be taken to hospital for bruising.

Once again, the Catalan Ombudsman wishes to show its solidarity with people who have been harassed, threatened or attacked because of their sexual identity or orientation, and calls on the public to get involved in defending their rights.

In this context, the Catalan Ombudsman wishes to highlight that an increase in cases of homophobic violence and incidents motivated by LGTBI-phobia has been detected in Catalonia. The Catalan Ombudsman's Gender Equality Plan establishes the commitment to open ex officio actions in cases of LGBTI-phobic physical aggression. And, in this context, the Catalan Ombudsman has already initiated 12 actions for homophobic aggressions, physical or verbal, in Catalonia since the beginning of 2020.

Regarding the specific case, the Catalan Ombudsman has addressed the Directorate General of the Police, the Directorate General for Equality and the Barcelona City Council to request information on these events.

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The Catalan Ombudsman proposes to Parliament the creation of a committee to follow up on the recommendations of the report approved by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

23/06/2021

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The report had the collaboration of the Catalan Ombudsman

The institution recommends that the Spanish authorities reform the crimes of rebellion and sedition to avoid disproportionate sentences for non-violent transgressions, among others

The rapporteur is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the recommendations made over a period of one year

Today, the Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó, met with the President of the Catalan Parliament, Laura Borràs, to analyse the recent approval by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe of the report Should politicians be prosecuted for statements made in the exercise of their mandate? and to propose measures to follow up on the recommendations it contains.

This report is the result of a lengthy drafting process, based on a parliamentary motion and the support of the Secretary General of the Human Rights Directorate of the Council of Europe, and involved visits to the countries under study, with the support of the respective governments, including the Spanish government. The report is solidly based on the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and the statements of other institutions of the Council of Europe itself, such as the Venice Commission, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.

At the request of the Council of Europe and the rapporteur himself, Boris Cilevičs, as well as the Technical-Parliamentary Assistance Directorate of the Congress of Deputies, the work in Catalonia was carried out in collaboration with the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman, on the one hand, was the basis for meetings and interviews of the rapporteur's team with entities in our country and, on the other hand, the Ombudsman's reports on rights and freedoms were used as a basis and supporting documents in the part of the arguments.

The report proposes, among other things, the necessary political -not criminal- treatment of the conflict, the modification or reinterpretation of crimes such as sedition, rebellion and embezzlement, the granting of pardons, the curtailment of legal proceedings opened against other people for reasons linked to the referendum of 1 October and dialogue between the parties. It also places the emphasis on recommending the release without delay of all politicians who fall within the definition of political prisoners established by the Resolution 1900 (2012) and states the absence of violence in the actions of October 2017. The report also shows that in Europe there is no margin for the criminal prosecution of politicians for acts carried out in the exercise of their mandate and that freedom of expression and the possibility of questioning the status quo of a state must be protected.

The same report provides for monitoring the implementation of the recommendations made over the course of a year. In this context, the Catalan Ombudsman asks the Parliament of Catalonia to contribute to this supervision and to create a specific study committee to monitor and evaluate the level of compliance with the measures and recommendations contained in the report. More specifically, according to the Catalan Ombudsman, this committee should verify that:

  • the crimes of sedition and rebellion are reviewed so that they do not lead to disproportionate sentences for non-violent actions;
  • there is the immediate release of persons deprived of their freedom by Supreme Court Judgment 459/2019;
  • stop prosecution and sanctions against other politicians for reasons related to the 1-October referendum;
  • the crime of embezzlement is reinterpreted in such a way that it only generates responsibility for real and quantified losses in the public budget;
  • avoid demanding any ideological change as a counterpart to the above measures.

Based on the experience of the Catalan Ombudsman's office in the subject matter of the Commission's analysis, and on the work carried out in the preparation of the Cilevičs report, the Ombudsman proposed to the President that the institution should have a permanent supervisory and proposal status within the Commission, in order to be able to directly analyse the work carried out, and also to make proposals for study and follow-up within the framework of the Commission's work.

In the event that the creation of this Committee is deemed appropriate, the Catalan Ombudsman proposes that the team in charge of the report, Mr. Boriss Cilevičs, rapporteur and president of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, and Günter Schirmer, head of the Secretariat of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and head of the Secretariat of the Committee on the election of judges to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Catalan Ombudsman continues to insist on the need to initiate an open and constructive dialogue that allows political differences to be addressed in a democratic context, even on issues that are sensitive for the State, always with full respect for the rule of law.

On June 21, the Catalan Ombudsman organized a side event to the Assembly debate to analyse the concept of freedom of expression in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights, with the participation of Françoise Tulkens, former vice-president of the European Court of Human Rights; Josep Casadevall, former judge of the European Court of Human Rights, and Rob Behrens, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman of the United Kingdom. Following the event, the Catalan Ombudsman emphasised that all the speakers concluded that Cilevičs report had very well reflected the principles of the ECHR and highlighted the importance of respecting the freedom of expression of politicians and parliamentarians, which is only exceptionally limited by hate speech.

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