The Catalan Ombudsman analyses the state of rights from the perspective of vulnerability and democracy


Rafael Ribó alerts on the situation of certain basic rights in our society
He concludes that rights must be defended beyond the law, in order to evolve towards a more democratic and respectful system for people.
He says that we need to focus on people and go beyond the concept of citizens, which can be restrictive in the enjoyment of rights.

The Catalan Ombudsman, Rafael Ribó, gave a speech entitled “The State of Rights”, which served to take stock of his term as head of the institution, today at the Sant Pau Art Nouveau site. The event, which was conducted by the journalist Lídia Heredia and presented by the lawyer and jurist Joan Vintró, also included the participation of representatives of third social sector organisations and experts in various fields related to rights, such as Gemma Craywinckel, director of the Catalan Health Service; Josep Gassó, President of the Fundació Catalana de l'Esplai; Carme Trilla, President of Hàbitat3; Jaume Castro, Head of the Sant'Egidio Community in Barcelona; Liliana Arroyo, Doctor in Sociology and researcher at the ESADE Institute for Social Innovation; and Lucia Caram, contemplative Dominican nun and activist.

Rafael Ribó wanted to begin his speech by highlighting the importance of the institution as a defender of people and the honour it has been to preside it, and he make an extensive acknowledgement to all the workers, collaborators and people who in some way have worked to guarantee human rights.

The Catalan Ombudsman wanted to insist that despite the fact that more than 650,000 people have been attended over the last eighteen years, there is still part of the population that does not know about the institution, especially the most vulnerable, and, therefore, it is important that we all help to spread the word about it and make it more accessible.

He also reflected on the concept of law, which goes beyond what is contained in legal regulations and which, therefore, must be interpreted broadly and in accordance with international treaties and the Convention on Human Rights.

As for the subjects, Rafael Ribó says that the emphasis must be placed on people and the concept of citizens must be overcome, because human rights apply equally to all human beings, regardless of their administrative situation.

With regard to the right to health, he wanted to stress that Catalonia has an excellent health system, but that the covid has shown that it has flaws that facilitate the flight to privatisation. In this sense, he called for the importance of improving the funding system, which would make it possible to correct the main problems detected, such as the saturation of hospital emergencies, waiting lists or shortcomings in mental health and primary care.

With regard to the right to education, the Catalan Ombudsman once again insisted on the need for all public policies to be aimed at guaranteeing equal opportunities. In this context, the Pact against school segregation, promoted by the Ombudsman institution, has been an effective tool and has allowed a 10% reduction in the levels of school segregation in Catalonia. This reduction is still insufficient, and the Catalan Ombudsman insists that the main instruments provided for in Decree 11/2021 must be deployed. The Catalan Ombudsman also wished to stress the need for a paradigm shift and the need to evolve from a model of differentiated schooling to a truly inclusive education model. In addition to improving resources, the Catalan Ombudsman reminds us that a cultural change is also needed. He also stressed that the current linguistic school model helps to reduce educational inequalities and that, therefore, it must be preserved.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises the right of children to express their opinions on matters that may affect them and, in particular, the right to be heard in any judicial or administrative proceedings that affect them. From the Catalan Ombudsman's experience, it is clear that this right is still not present in most of the public spheres in which it is to be applied, and Ribó insists that professionals working with children must have the utmost preparation so that a real, direct and indirect schooling can be carried out in a direct and indirect way, and adapted to the characteristics of the child.

A profound change is needed in the care plan for the elderly. Emphasis must be placed on home care, and the tendency towards institutionalisation must be avoided. The health emergency situation experienced in 2020 has highlighted the vulnerability of residential facilities for the elderly. In this sense, the Catalan Ombudsman considers it essential to urgently review the residential model, to analyse in depth the structure and size of residential centres, the social and medical care provided to users and the protocols in force, the human resources and the number of professionals, and the alternative resources to residential care (supervised flats, home support).

Rafael Ribó also warned that the right to affordable housing must be guaranteed for everyone. This makes it essential to increase the public housing stock and establish a housing plan to provide an effective response to emergency housing situations.

A large part of the Ombudsman's actions in recent years have been related to the increase in situations of poverty and the mechanisms to deal with it. In view of this, the Catalan Ombudsman demands that the guaranteed income of citizenship and the minimum subsistence allowance become easily accessible instruments for vulnerable people. In this sense, he also wanted to warn that a food crisis is approaching as a result of the war in Iraq, which some organisations have already begun to denounce, and that runaway inflation will increase the vulnerability of people on the lowest incomes. While it is true that Law 24/2015 prevents supply cuts to people in situations of vulnerability, a definitive solution to the debt they have contracted has yet to be found, and agreements must be signed with the supply companies to cancel this debt.

With regard to the rights of people with disabilities, much progress still needs to be made in promoting resources for the inclusion of these people in the community, providing them with the support they need to live independently, in line with the UN Convention. It is necessary to develop the portfolio of services and update the modules.

As for the environment, in recent years the crisis has stalled some projects, although this has not meant a total change of paradigm or mentality, as administrations have continued to approve, with varying degrees of intensity, projects with environmental, landscape and urban planning implications. On this point, the Catalan Ombudsman calls on public authorities to always adopt the most prudent and cautious option when there are reasonable indications of environmental impacts, and at the same time, the one that is least harmful to the territory.

In terms of the rights of persons deprived of liberty, the Catalan Ombudsman wished to highlight all the work carried out by the Catalan Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture, which on a weekly basis visits places of deprivation of liberty (prisons, police stations, youth centres, etc.) unannounced. The improvements in the Catalan penitentiary system are evident, but there are aspects that still need to be improved, such as the care of inmates with mental problems and addictions, the protocols applicable during detention and the use of alternative penal measures. With regard to security forces, the Catalan Ombudsman reminds the public prosecutor that police officers must act in accordance with the principles of legality and proportionality, and that the provisions of the Istanbul Protocol are often not complied with during medical visits.

On rights and freedoms, the Catalan Ombudsman highlighted the European Convention on Human Rights of the Council of Europe as the most relevant defence tool. Using this text as a reference, the Catalan Ombudsman has been able to confirm that several legal regulations approved by the State violate rights, as could be the case with the Citizen Security Law or some interpretations related to the Organic Electoral Law. Along these lines, he exemplified how the defence of rights must go beyond laws, and highlighted the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which recommended various legislative modifications (the crime of sedition and rebellion, or embezzlement) and structural changes to improve the democratic quality of the State, through freedom of expression and assembly, ideological freedom or the strengthening of dialogue between the State and regional structures. The Catalan Ombudsman was invited to appear before the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Council of Europe to follow up on the implementation of the recommendations, where he reviewed the non-compliance on almost all points by the competent authorities.

During his speech, Rafael Ribó reviewed the mandate and competences granted to the institution by the Catalan Ombudsman's Law, as well as other mandates contained in other laws, such as the drafting of reports on children's rights in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, or on discrimination and LGTBIQ+, as well as the complete study of the fulfilment of the Law on Transparency by the administrations.

Conference on youtube