European ombudsmen Conference ends up with a call to defend the immigrant’s rights in a context of reduction of social benefits and increase of xenophobia


(c) Jordi Soteras

Ombudsmen stand by the valid arguments of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to face the weakening of the culture of democratic values noticed in different countries.

Ombudsman from a range of European countries, regions and towns gathered in Barcelona from October 4th to 5th on the occasion of the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) European Conference's General Assembly. Under the name of “Europe: an open society?” the meeting was held by the Catalan Ombudsman and was participated by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, and the European Ombudsman, Nikiforos Diamandouros. Both of them took part in the opening session, headed by the President of the Catalan Autonomous Government, José Montilla.

According to Hammarberg, protecting the rights of the most unprotected groups, specially immigrants, ethnic minorities and elderly people is the challenge during a crisis. On his part, the European Ombudsman encouraged ombudsmen to keep their independence, efficiency and visibility to face “the voices that close doors”.

The ombudsmen gathered in Barcelona also called against the cuts in social policies, caused by the economic crisis and mainly suffered by the most unprotected groups. In addition, they undertook to teach about rights and responsibilities to both, native and immigrant people residing in each country.  Strengthening ombudsman networking and enhancing cooperation with social organizations were among other objectives stressed during the Barcelona’s Conference.

Also, Michel Villan, president of the Committee on Migration of the Council of Europe referred to networking and encouraged the ombudsmen to increase their cooperation with the Council and to take advantage of work synergies regarding rights and responsibilities of immigrant people.

Apart from rights and responsibilities of immigrants, the Ombudsmen’s role implementing the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment was addressed in the IOI European Conference. All the ombudsmen and experts taking part in the discussion made clear the Convention can be implemented in different ways and by different agents within the same state/country. This is the case of Spain, where the Catalan Ombudsman is in charge of its implementation in Catalonia.

It was also stated that due to the Convention is basically a prevention system its results cannot be achieved in the immediate future. Besides, it was reminded Ombudsman offices are effective agents to implement the Convention when they work with the right infrastructure and coordination.