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.

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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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Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Public Ombudswoman Lora Vidović: "Absence of Parliamentary Debate Has Many Repercussions"

ZAGREB, 16 March, 2021 - In her report on 2020, Public Ombudswoman Lora Vidović warns that her recommendations are less and less complied with, which, she believes, can also be attributed to the fact that the parliament has still not discussed her reports for 2018 and 2019, a fact that has a number of long-term repercussions.

"An analysis of the government's opinion on the report for 2019 shows that the competent bodies acted or act in only 20% of the recommendations, which is less also in relation to the report for 2015 (29%), which the parliament did not adopt," says Vidović, whose eight-year term expired on 1 March. She did not apply for re-election.

"Especially worrying is the government's failure to respond to as many as 60% of the recommendations," says Vidović, who in her report for 2020 gave as many as 142 recommendations for stronger human rights protection in almost all areas of life, addressing them mostly to the competent ministries.

She also says that the Office for Human and Ethnic Minority Rights, as the body in charge of reporting on the implementation of the public ombudsman's reports, has not done so since her report for 2013.

"The absence of parliamentary debate evidently has a number of long-term repercussions that do not contribute to better human rights protection," says Vidović, noting that the Ministry of the Interior is still denying her office direct access to data on the treatment of irregular migrants in its computer system.

Most complaints refer to health system

The Office of the Public Ombudswoman, which in 2020 had 53 employees, acted in close to 5,000 cases, of which slightly over 2,900 were new ones, an increase of 16% from 2019.

This was mostly due to the coronavirus pandemic and earthquakes which have strongly affected human rights in Croatia, Vidović says, noting that just as in 2019, most of the complaints last year referred to the health system (328). For the first time, among the five most frequent types of complaints, with an increase of 49%, were public utilities.

Around 10% of all the new cases referred to the coronavirus epidemic and the number of such complaints would have probably been much higher had the office of the public ombudswoman not been damaged in the 22 March 2020 earthquake, which prevented it from receiving complaints regularly in the first months of the epidemic.  

The epidemic has strongly affected both patients and health workers, who have taken the brunt of the health crisis, Vidović says.

As regards patients, according to data from the Croatian Health Insurance Fund (HZZO), in the first ten months of 2020 the number of visits to family doctors dropped by 21.5% compared to 2019, the number of visits by pre-school children dropped by 22.6%, and of those by women by 20.7%. At the same time, the number of services for which physical contact is not necessary rose by one-third.

Members of the public complained to the ombudswoman about having to wait in lines outside health clinics, having to speak about their health problems and family circumstances without any privacy and about being examined through the window of their family doctor's office.

Waiting lists for specialist examinations have not grown smaller and for certain types of examinations they have grown longer. The epidemic and the mobilisation of the health system in March and April, when only medical emergencies and COVID-19 cases were dealt with, caused a new disruption because a large number of examinations, diagnostic procedures and surgeries were cancelled or postponed until further notice, says Vidović.

According to HZZO data, the number of appointments for first-time specialist examinations dropped significantly in 2020 (from 129,356 in 2019 to 55,007), as did the number of follow-up appointments (280,599 as against 515,590 in 2019). The Health Ministry established a call centre to redirect patients to other hospitals in Zagreb but aside from that measure, the plans are not known as to how to provide citizens, within a reasonable time, with all medical services, says Vidović.

She also notes that Croatia has a shortage of family medicine teams (-121), pediatric health care teams (-52, mostly in Zagreb), dental medicine teams (-205) and gynecology teams (-58).

More than 270 decisions by national COVID-19 response team

Vidović also comments on decisions made by the national COVID-19 response team, saying that "its initial, as well as most of its subsequent decisions restricted basic rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and international documents, from freedom of movement and assembly to the right to privacy." She describes as particularly worrying the ban on or restriction of private gatherings.

She notes that the granting of permits to leave one's place of residence was uneven, and in some cases "some members of a household obtained them while other members of the same household were denied those permits without any explanation."

The permits also obstructed access to public services for residents of rural areas and islands, while the cancellation of public transport made health and social services in remote areas less available, notably for elderly people.

Citizens' having problem getting around the new circumstances was also due to the large number of decisions made by the national team, 271 by 13 January 2021.

Lack of timely and verified information

In her report for 2020, Vidović also comments on the Zagreb earthquake, noting that media and social networks showed that citizens did not receive timely and verified information on the competent institutions and available help, with the situation having been additionally complicated by epidemiological restrictions and restriction of movement. Public disputes about the way of financing post-earthquake reconstruction between the City of Zagreb and the competent ministry and objections that independent experts were not sufficiently consulted in the decision-making process have deepened mistrust of state institutions, she says.

She notes that "many citizens still do not know what to do and how to exercise their rights, and their mistrust of state institutions and the system is great."

By 18 January 2021, 202 applications were submitted regarding the exercise of legal rights related to reconstruction, she says, repeating that it is necessary to form mobile teams consisting of staff from the Construction Ministry and/or the City of Zagreb to advise citizens on the ground, free of charge, about their rights and help them write their applications.

The direct damage from the quake has been estimated at more than HRK 86 billion, and it is evident that reconstruction process will be long, complex and financially demanding, Vidović says in her report for 2020.

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