The Ombudsman has sent his comments on the draft law amending the Ombudsman Act to the Minister for Legislation. The Government's proposal aims to establish a Children's Ombudsman and a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) under the Office of the Ombudsman. This will entail many new responsibilities and tasks. The Ombudsman therefore advises the Government that adequate funding and staffing are needed to carry out the new mandates with dignity.
"I am pleased that the amendment proposal has come into being. I consider the establishment of a Children's Ombudsman and a National Human Rights Institution to be very necessary. However, I caution against establishing them only 'pro forma'. Especially without adequate staff and financial support for their activities. In the words of the 'classic', the phase of expectation could easily be replaced by a phase of disappointment. And not only with the public, but also with international institutions," pointed out Ombudsman Stanislav Křeček.
The Czech Republic is one of the last EU countries without its own National Human Rights Institution and Children's Ombudsman. Czechia has faced international criticism for this. "I don't think we should delay the establishment of both institutions any further, given the current situation of public budgets," the Ombudsman said, adding that the costs of the two institutions are not enormous.
The establishment of a Children's Ombudsman and a National Human Rights Institution will significantly strengthen the protection of human rights. This will create many new challenges for the Ombudsman's Office. For example, children's complaints will be a very staff-intensive agenda. In addition to the state authorities, the activities of other public authorities and local authorities (e.g. school principals) should now be included. The proposal also envisages an active role for the Children's Ombudsman in court proceedings. The Office will only be able to provide such a service if it is adequately staffed.
"The idea that the Office can ensure the implementation of new large-scale agendas by reorganizing its existing resources is completely unrealistic. It would lead to longer timeframes for handling individual complaints, both from adults and children. I fear that this could also affect our other activities, such as own-initiative investigations, research, visits to institutions, comments on legislative proposals or, for example, intervening in court proceedings. Above all, we would not be meeting the expectations that we place in the establishment of both institutions," the Ombudsman expressed his concern.
In addition, the Ombudsman's Office is already struggling with a reduced budget. As a result of the government's austerity package, the draft budget for next year provides for a 2% reduction in salaries and a 5% reduction in operating expenses. "In this situation, I consider it impossible to burden the Office with additional tasks without an adequate increase in staff resources," the Ombudsman added.