Saturday, 14 May 2022

Slonjšak Calls For Enabling Disabled Persons To Exercise Family-Related Rights

ZAGREB, 14 May 2022 - Ombudsman for Persons with Disabilities Anka Slonjšak on Saturday issued a statement on the occasion of International Day of Families, observed on 15 May, emphasising sustainable urban policies, in line with this year's theme, highlighted by the UN for this day: "Families and Urbanization".

The United Nations underscores on its website that "urbanization is one of the most important megatrends shaping our world and the life and wellbeing of families worldwide."

This year’s theme, "Families and Urbanization", aims to raise awareness on the importance of sustainable, family-friendly urban policies.

Slonjšak says that in Croatia, persons with disabilities are still struggling to achieve their fundamental right to a home and life in a family.

Institutionalisation and admission of persons with disabilities to institutions due to an undeveloped network of support that should enable them to live with their families has a devastating impact on entire families and denies disabled persons the right to live with their families, the ombudsman warns in her statement.

Slonjšak particularly warns about the non-availability of non-institutional social and health services in rural communities, which makes families with members with disabilities move to larger urban areas.

The ombudsman says that even though persons with disabilities are guaranteed the right to marriage, the right to found a family, the right to intimate relationships, sexual activities and childbearing and the right to be foster and adoptive parents, those rights often are unattainable for them.

In this context, she raised her voice against the negative stereotype about persons with disabilities not being able to care for children or get married.

She also calls for pro-active measures that will make it possible for persons with disabilities to exercise those rights.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Saturday, 16 April 2022

Ombudsman Comments on Outrageous Incidents Targeting the Disabled in 2021

ZAGREB, 16 April 2022 - Ombudsman for Persons with Disabilities Anka Slonjšak has warned that in 2021 there was a rising number of incidents in which children with disabilities were exposed to discriminatory speech and that some of those cases that outraged the public, criminal proceedings were launched.

"We have warned about the cases of hate and prejudicial speech," Slonjšak said in her annual report.

In one of those cases, a child with autistic spectrum disorder was told to leave a patisserie in the town of Samobor with the explanation that "such children belong to the woods". In another case, a mother and her daughter with Down Syndrome had to leave a cafe in Zadar as they "are damaging the reputation of the cafe."

Some incidents of this kind have been the reason to press charges against bullies whose behaviour outraged the public.

The Office of Ombudsman for Persons with Disabilities monitors and promotes the rights of over 612,000 persons with disabilities, including 30,000 students with developmental disorders.

In 2021, a number of complaints lodged with the Office increased by a fifth compared to 2020.

Most complaints referred to the conduct of social welfare (502), while 329 referred to difficulties in employment and on the labour market, and 280 concerned access and mobility.

COVID takes lives of 2,500 disabled persons

During the COVID pandemic almost 110,000 of them caught coronavirus, according to the statistics kept until 9 March 2022, and approximately 2,500 died from the infection, while in Croatia so far about this infection has taken over 16,000 lives. 

The pandemic has led to the degradation of the rights of disabled citizens, the Ombudsman warns.


Monday, 7 March 2022

Data on Gender-Based Violence Worrying, Ombudswoman Says

7 March 2022 - Gender equality ombudswoman Višnja Ljubičić said on Monday the data on gender-based violence was worrying and that victim protection measures were seldom ordered, while those that were ordered were not implemented, notably in domestic violence cases.

The perpetrator too often repeatedly violates the measures, which may lead to the victim's death, she said at a round table organised by the Social Democrats parliamentary group ahead of International Women's Day.

The round table focused on the European Protection Order as a legal instrument in combating violence against women. Ljubičić said it was necessary to impose stricter punishment on perpetrators and improve prevention and the education of professionals.

Reducing the rate of gender-based violence is a government priority, said Vedrana Nikolić Šimundža, assistant justice minister for criminal law.

The European Protection Order is an attempt to equate legal rules and provide the same or similar protection in all member states, she added.

It is important to raise public awareness of the European Protection Order and that we should issue it if requested and do it urgently, she said.

Speaking via video link, Austrian MP and European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights chair Petra Bayr said international law could be a strong tool in combating violence against women.

Experience shows the violence rate is falling in countries which adopted even non-binding conventions on women's protection because there is greater public awareness and pressure on governments to act, she said.

The gold standard is the Istanbul Convention, which not only provides a clear and broad definition of different forms of violence, but also obliges signatories to criminalise certain offences, she added.

Saturday, 27 November 2021

Ombudswoman: We Must Not Be Enemies to One Another, Virus Is the Enemy

ZAGREB, 27 Nov, 2021 - Ombudswoman Tena Šimonović Einwalter on Saturday strongly condemned calls for violence that could be heard at a protest against the COVID-19 certificate mandate last weekend, stressing that citizens must not be enemies to one another because coronavirus and the pandemic are the enemy.

Speaking in an interview with Croatian Radio, Šimonović Einwalter said that violence  definitely must not be a way to deal with problems.

Citizens are tired, dissatisfied, frustrated and want this situation to be over as soon as possible and one should have understanding for that, she said, adding that the right to assembly was guaranteed by the Constitution, laws and international treaties but that gatherings must be peaceful and not violent.

"What we witnessed was an attack on reporters, calls for violence, war, formation of a military unit - those are extremely serious things that worry me," she said, stressing that one should most strongly condemn calls for violence.

"Citizens must not be enemies to one another in this situation, the virus and the pandemic are the enemy. More responsibility and more solidarity is needed in the fight against the pandemic," she said.

COVID-19 certificates are an instrument that is far from being perfect and citizens have the right to question and critically think about them just as they have the right to question any decision made by the government, she said.

Commenting on plans to collect signatures for a referendum on the abolishment of COVID-19 certificates and on the work of the national COVID-19 response team, Šimonović Einwalter said that the Constitutional Court should state its position on the constitutionality of referendum questions before the collection of signatures starts, to avoid polarisation in society.

"It would be much better to know in advance, before the entire referendum process is set in motion, if a referendum question is in line with the Constitution," she stressed, calling for making changes in that regard.

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Friday, 12 November 2021

Ombudswoman Calls for Prompt Publication of Mandatory COVID Certificates

ZAGREB, 12 Nov - Ombudswoman Tena Šimonović Einwalter on Thursday called on the government and the national COVID-19 response team to urgently publish their decision on mandatory COVID certificates considering that it should go into force in a few days and that its text and details of its implementation are unknown.

"The information is necessary to bodies and institutions so they can implement the decision, to their employees who must comply with it as well as to citizens whose many rights depend on their physical appearance at those places. The Ombudswoman has therefore recommended that the decision be urgently published, with complete and clear instructions regarding its implementation," the Office of the Ombudswoman said on its website, giving recommendations regarding the expansion of the use of the certificate to the entire government and public sector.

"The introduction of this measure has led to an increase in vaccination interest and that requires a faster and better response since we are witnessing queuing for vaccination. Citizens waiting to get vaccinated, however, will not be able to obtain a COVID-19 certificate right away and they will have to get tested in the coming period," Šimonović Einwalter noted, adding that it was necessary to make vaccination and testing broadly available as well as explain to citizens how they can exercise their rights before bodies of public authority until they meet conditions to obtain the certificate.

She warned about the need to ensure, at least during the transitional period, free testing for destitute citizens as well as those who cannot get vaccinated due to medical reasons.

The purpose of the recommendations is to contribute to the readiness of the system to implement the announced decision, the ombudswoman said, recalling that it was necessary to make sure the restriction of citizens' rights was proportional to the desired outcome - prevention of a further increase in the number of infections and deaths and alleviating the pressure on the health system by a growing number of patients requiring hospital treatment.

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Friday, 5 November 2021

Social Welfare Has to Be Available to Everyone, Says Human Rights Ombudswoman

ZAGREB, 5 Nov 2021 - Human Rights Ombudswoman Tena Šimonović Einwalter believes that it is essential that the new Social Welfare Act establish a good welfare system and make entitlements and services available to everyone, including people living in rural areas and on the islands.

"It is essential to establish a well-organised welfare system, with appropriate capacities, and entitlements and services have to be available to everyone, including people living in rural and isolated areas and on the islands. Allowances should ensure a significant decrease in poverty or facilitate coming out of poverty, while the reform should focus on citizens who are beneficiaries of the social welfare system," Šimonović Einwalter says in her comments on the social welfare bill.

She welcomes the positive changes which include a guaranteed minimum allowance, accommodation and home help for all beneficiaries of welfare assistance. She also welcomes the increased penalties for anyone providing services for the elderly who have violated the law.

Necessary to be precise with legal provisions

Šimonović Einwalter says that it is important for legal provisions to be as precise as possible so that in practice they are interpreted correctly and equally.

"It is necessary to list welfare entitlements to ensure legal security, but also so they are visible, particularly to beneficiaries in the system," she says.

She believes that the bill needs to significantly relieve employees at welfare centres and decrease the number of  their public powers, particularly for those who are not directly tied to the welfare system.

She says that centres currently have 145 powers that are not sufficiently directed to the needs of beneficiaries. "Relieving them would ensure timely and quality protection for beneficiaries with regard to preventing the tragedies that we have unfortunately witnessed," she said.

Šimonović Einwalter lists a series of proposals to improve the bill.

 "Considering the novelty the bill brings related to establishing a social welfare institute, it is particularly important to investigate the possible effects of centralising the system and changing the status of welfare centres, as well as to hold additional consultations on these proposals," she says.

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Sunday, 19 September 2021

Ombudswoman: Solution to Violence Against Women Lies in Continuous Education

ZAGREB, 19 Sept, 2021 - The key to solving the problem of violence against women lies primarily in the continuous education of those applying laws and regulations, gender equality ombudswoman Višnja Ljubičić has said on the occasion of the National Day of Combating Violence Against Women, observed on 22 September.

She welcomed the latest amendments to the criminal code and the law on protection against domestic violence, which eliminated some key shortcomings in the effective suppression of gender-based violence, but said the key was to keep educating those applying laws and regulations, rather than in frequently changing legislation.

Serious acts of gender-based violence are often tried as misdemeanours and serious cases of sexual, domestic and gender-based violence are recognised too late, when we witness femicide, Ljubičić said a statement.

Since 2015, when it was reinstated into the criminal code, domestic violence has been continuously and significantly increasing while misdemeanour complaints have been continuously decreasing since 2009, she said.

The number of misdemeanour domestic violence complaints dropped from over 18,000 in 2009 to a little over 9,000 in 2020, while the number of criminal complaints surged from 400 to over 4,000.

The conclusion is that, in the long term, our system of combating violence against women and domestic violence deters victims from reporting lighter forms of violence until the situation escalates and enters the sphere of criminal law, when violence can no longer be suffered or hidden as the outcome is often tragic, Ljubičić said.

Such a misdemeanour system is not preventative and does not provide an effective and prompt response to violence, she added.

There is a lack of effective and systematic prevention outside the legal system as well as of investment in resocialisation programmes for perpetrators, she said, adding that prevention boiled down to fining or giving them suspended sentences, instead of the harshest ones.

Ljubičić said such a system of combating gender-based and domestic violence showed its weaknesses especially in crises, such as the ongoing pandemic, adding that the number of crimes of domestic violence jumped 40% from 2019.

According to Interior Ministry figures for this year through 31 August, there were 5,522 registered perpetrators of misdemeanour domestic violence, with men making up 77%, as well s 6,333 victims, with women making up 63.8%. There were also 1,153 registered victims of domestic violence crimes, of whom 86% were women.

Ljubičić said the figures were potentially mildly up from 2020, but that the rise in rapes in the first seven months of 2021 was worrisome.

Everything points to the need to effect the necessary changes in the whole system, notably in the prevention and suppression of violence against women, she added.

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Friday, 25 June 2021

Ombudswoman: Epidemic Has Hit Persons With Disabilities Particularly Hard

June 25th, 2021 -  The COVID-19 epidemic has affected the lives of persons with disabilities and children with developmental difficulties and their families, the ombudswoman for persons with disabilities, Anka Slonjšak, said in parliament on Friday, presenting a report on her work in 2020.

The epidemic's effect and last year's earthquakes have shown all the shortcomings in the system to which we have been pointing for years, she said.

Problems such as a shortage of experts in medical, educational, and social care institutions, computer illiteracy, and poor availability of transport to rehabilitation centers are yet to show the effects on mental, physical, emotional, and social health, Slonjšak said.

She singled out the lack of continuity in the provision of medical services, saying it led to the health of many people deteriorating.

She said distance learning had a particularly negative effect on children with developmental difficulties.

Last year also saw a standstill in legislative changes regarding persons with disabilities, Slonjšak said, adding that it was necessary to adopt as soon as possible new laws on social care, personal assistants, and the inclusion supplement.

In 2020, Slonjšak's office received 2,266 complaints, 94 more than the year before, and most were about work from home and social care. The office sent legal entities 420 recommendations and warnings, as well as moving 20 legal amendments.

MPs unanimously supported Slonjšak's report, underlining the need to raise further awareness of the needs and rights of persons with disabilities.

For all you need to know about coronavirus specific to Croatia, including travel, border, and quarantine rules, as well as the locations of vaccination points and testing centers across the country, make sure to bookmark our dedicated COVID-19 section and select your preferred language.

Saturday, 3 April 2021

Ombudsman For Children: We Must Not Ignore Violence

April 3, 2021- The steering council of the social welfare center in Nova Gradiška on Friday initiated the dismissal of the center's director, Branko Medunić, and Family and Social Policy Minister Josip Aladrović will second the motion, the ministry said unofficially.

Following the serious injuring of a girl of two and a half, hospitalized in Zagreb and in critical condition, the ministry sent inspectors to the center. They established certain irregularities. Medunić is expected to be relieved of duty on Saturday.

Aladrović said on Friday the case would be analyzed "to the tiniest detail" to see if the system was "possibly responsible," and he condemned any form of violence.

Brod-Posavina County police said on Friday night the girl's parents were placed in custody after it was established that the child sustained several head and body injuries as a result of corporal punishment.

A criminal investigation established that the father (27) and mother (24) grossly neglected their duty to raise their child and that they abused her and grossly violated her rights by physically punishing her, police said.

The girl was brought to the Nova Gradiška hospital on Wednesday and then transferred to Zagreb's children's hospital.

The local social welfare center had known about the family from before because the father was reported for domestic violence. The girl was in a foster family for over a year, but the center returned her to the parents at their request.

Following the parents' arrest, their three other children, aged several months to four, have been placed with a foster family.

Ombudsman for Children: We must not ignore violence

Ombudsman for Children Helenca Pirnat Dragičević said on Friday that violence must not be ignored and that anyone who knew or suspected child abuse or neglect had the duty to report it to the authorities.

Speaking on Croatian Television, she said her office was following this case and that it had requested reports from the police and the Nova Gradiška social welfare center.

She said it was important to investigate the case thoroughly and that in protecting children from violence, all systems needed to act in sync.

She wondered how such systematic abuse might have gone unnoticed, given that doctors confirmed the girl had been abused and the father reported for domestic violence.

In 2020, her office received 76 reports of domestic violence and 64 of child neglect. She said but noted that this was not an indicator of the problem's real scope, only of certain difficulties in protecting children from violence.

According to Interior Ministry data, 1,849 crimes against child rights were reported in 2020, up 44% of the year, and about 10,000 reports were made of offenses under the law on domestic violence protection.

The ombudsman said the increase in domestic violence was worrying and that the complaints her office received were about the physical and mental abuse of children.

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Friday, 19 March 2021

Tena Šimonović Einwalter Elected Public Ombudswoman

ZAGREB, 19 March, 2021 - Lawyer Tena Šimonović Einwalter is the new Public Ombudswoman, the Croatian parliament decided on Friday by secret ballot.

A total of 115 MPs voted for her election, while the other candidate, lawyer Sandra Hančić, received the support of one MP, Deputy Speaker Željko Reiner said.

Šimonović Einwalter, elected for a term of eight years, was since 2013 a deputy to Public Ombudswoman Lora Vidović, whose term expired on 1 March and who did not apply for re-election.

Five candidates had applied for the post, and after one candidate was eliminated for not having complete documentation, the remaining four were interviewed and Šimonović Einwalter and Hančić were proposed to the parliament.

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