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Vigorous activities by the Seimas Ombudsmen raise public awareness about the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office

21 May 2015

Seimo kontrolierių įstaigaMore than a half (54%) of Lithuanian residents would know where to find protection against human rights violations. As many as 42% would seek help from the Seimas Ombudsmen. Those are the findings of a representative survey of the population commissioned by the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office, carried out at the end of last year.

Increased public awareness about the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office resulted from a particularly high number of complaints examined by the office. Last year, the Seimas Ombudsmen resolved over 1 953 complaints, including ones relating to the practices of state and municipal officials.

The survey has revealed that 42% of Lithuanian citizens would apply to the Seimas Ombudsmen for protection against human rights violations, compared to 34.5% in 2013 and just 24.3% in 2012.

Researchers note that younger and more educated respondents, as well as those with higher incomes (70%) and living in major cities (58%), are more aware of the organisations to contact in cases of human rights violations.

In 2014, the Seimas Ombudsmen upheld nearly half of all complaints received and completed the complaint procedures by issuing nearly 1 800 recommendations.

‘Recommendations are one of the key instruments we have for finding effective, flexible and swift solutions to the problems experienced by people, as well as for preventing possible human rights violations by national and municipal authorities’, said Augustinas Normantas, Head of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office.

The year 2014 saw a very impressive rate of implementation of the recommendations, reaching as high as 95%. Recommendations issued by the Seimas Ombudsmen have been recognised for the excellent legal reasoning in support of the conclusions made, which is a prerequisite for such a high rate of implementation.

‘This shows that the authorities, to whom the recommendations are addressed, respect the position of the Seimas Ombudsmen and seek cooperation in dealing with the human rights issues identified by the Seimas Ombudsmen’, notes Seimas Ombudsman Mr Normantas.

In 2014, the Seimas Ombudsmen commenced national torture prevention initiatives. This function was entrusted to the Seimas Ombudsmen following ratification by the Seimas of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, by which Lithuania undertook to appoint a national body responsible for the prevention of torture at places of detention. In Lithuania, the number of such places is more than 450.

Work in the area of torture prevention at national level began with data collection to determine the number and type of places of detention in Lithuania. In view of the wide diversity of such establishments, the Seimas Ombudsmen had to draw up different inspection methodologies for the different types of establishments, decide on the methods and duration of inspections and eventually carry out the inspections.

In 2014, the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office duly observed the principle of openness, transparency and publicity in disseminating information on its own activities, as well as on various issues of relevance to the public. The information was prepared and disseminated in Lithuanian and in English. In 2014, online media sources published some 200 articles, and there were approximately 20 radio and television shows covering the activities of the Seimas Ombudsmen. As of this year, the activities of the Seimas Ombudsmen are also being publicised on social networks, Facebook and Twitter.

Raising public awareness about the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office has directly contributed to the visibility of its activities and to the education of the public on human rights issues. The experience of the Seimas Ombudsmen is that, once the public learns through the media about individuals who have been successful in obtaining a remedy for human rights violations, they are inclined to apply to the Office with their own request to investigate an alleged failure by national or municipal officials to address their problems or to address them properly.

This article is published in partnership with European Network of Ombudsmen. The original version can be found in Newsletter No 23.

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