Public Ombudswoman: Reports Are Like a Physical, Sometimes it’s Not Pleasant

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She says that police conduct towards migrants is a severe problem in Croatia and other EU countries and stresses that prosecutorial authorities must investigate all complaints.

Šimonović Einwalter says that her predecessor Lora Vidović has done an excellent job.

She also condemns out-of-turn vaccination against COVID-19 and believes that the process of post-earthquake reconstruction is too slow and hampered by excessive red tape.

Asked how she explains the fact that the parliament has still not discussed reports by her office for the last three years, she says that she does not know why there has been no discussion about the accounts for 2018 and 2019, but that she will see to it that no longer happens because those reports are like a physical, which one should undergo regularly.

Sometimes a physical is not pleasant, but it points to problems that we as a state need to deal with more, and it shows which areas need additional checks and what the therapy is. That needs to be taken seriously. One has to do what needs to be done, Šimonović Einwalter says, noting that the question as to why the previous reports have not been discussed yet should be put primarily to the parliament.

“I must warn about the repercussions of their not being discussed, the main one being a decrease in the rate of acceptance and implementation of the office’s recommendations, from 67% in 2017 (the parliament discussed report for that year) to around 20% for accounts from 2018 and 2019, which have not been consulted on time.”

Asked if the parliament should vote on the Public Ombudswoman’s reports, she said that considering the practice in other European countries, it should not, as such statements were rarely put to the vote in other European countries. The parliament should discuss those reports, but an option is not necessary. They are not laws that need to be adopted but reports by an independent institution on the human rights situation, with recommendations that need to be discussed and applied.

Asked about some MPs describing her predecessor Lora Vidović as ideologically biased and as having leveled unfounded accusations against police over their treatment of migrants, Šimonović Einwalter said that the office deals with human rights, prevention of discrimination, equal access to justice, the rule of law, and promotion of laws and legal practice and that she intends to do just that.

She said that she was aware that there were different views on some controversial issues but that she hoped that future discussions on her reports in the parliament would focus on issues of importance to citizens and that politics would be understood as work for the familiar good party one-upmanship.

Asked about objections that Vidović dealt too much with the Ustasha salute “For the homeland ready” and singer Marko Perković Thompson compared to other problems that she had detected, Šimonović Einwalter said that Vidović had done an excellent job, setting priorities according to what she believed were essential problems.

Some topics are imposed by a particular time and specific events, noting that media, too, were interested more in particular issues, which could cause an impression that only those topics were being addressed.

That is one more reason to present the public ombudswoman’s reports in the parliament and have them discussed so that the scope of problems citizens encounter can be seen.

The 2020 report of the Office of the Public Ombudswoman again cites complaints about the police treatment of migrants, including one cruel act, and says that the Office of the Chief State Prosecutor (DORH) did not act on any of those reports.

Asked about this, Šimonović Einwalter said that the treatment of migrants is a severe problem, not only in Croatia but also in the EU.

The Office of the Public Ombudswoman does not have information that DORH has acted on the complaints reported in the 2020 report, except in a case concerning Nigerian students (who arrived in Croatia for a sports competition, claimed that they had student visas but were deported by Croatian police to Bosnia and Herzegovina). Croatia should investigate cases that may constitute a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. This should be done by DORH regardless of who may be responsible for the offense, she said.

Asked about the public perception that the Office of the Public Ombudswoman constantly suspects police and that citizens seem to trust the police more than the ombudswoman, Šimonović Einwalter said that this was not a matter of whom to trust, but rather that investigations had to be carried out to see what had happened.

We want access to information on police conduct towards migrants as we do in cases of other people. What we insist on is an independent investigation in cases of complaints concerning police conduct, she said.

I think that it is absolutely the police force’s role to protect the border, which citizens agree with. Still, I also believe that most citizens would decide that they do not want police to beat and abuse migrants and foreign media to report that, Šimonović Einwalter said, adding that that was why a proper investigation was crucial.

They asked about the ongoing campaign of vaccination against COVID-19. If it was good that politicians got vaccinated first, Šimonović Einwalter said that the public vaccination of ministers and MPs at the start of the vaccination campaign made sense as its purpose was to encourage people to get vaccinated.

The situation has changed since due to interest in vaccination exceeding the available amount of vaccines, she said, adding that she condemned the behavior of those who used their office to get vaccinated out of turn.

The lack of transparency, wherever there is a lack of transparency, is abuse, she said.

Asked about the main problems faced by citizens whose properties were damaged in last year’s earthquakes, notably in Zagreb, Šimonović Einwalter said that Zagreb’s changes were too slow, and people mainly complained about excessive red tape in the process of reconstruction. Some positive steps have been made, she said, about an e-system enabling the faster collection of documents required for post-earthquake reconstruction but added that the process was still very complicated and slow.

One year after the Zagreb earthquake, some people from Čučerje and Markuševec (where the epicenter of the earthquake was) still live in housing containers and hostels, and reconstruction will not be completed soon, she said.

Asked about objections that her office has too many employees, 53, Šimonović Einwalter said that the office had the mandates to act as the office of the public ombudsman, the national institution for the protection of human rights, the central body for the prevention of discrimination, the national mechanism for the supervision of prisons, penitentiaries, and psychiatric institutions, and the institution protecting whistle-blowers.

If that is taken into account, the number of employees is not high, she said.

Asked if her office had wrapped up the procedure in the case of a Rijeka cafe owner who recently said that members of the ruling HDZ party were not welcome in his establishment, Šimonović Einwalter noted that the procedure was being finished and that the office would soon finalize its opinion.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page.


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