The Parliamentary Ombudsman calls for the protection of human rights in social care institutions to be guaranteed

1 April 2020 

The Seimas Ombudsman appealed to all Lithuanian municipalities and care institutions to ensure respect for human rights and freedoms in the time of COVID-19 outbreak. In his appeal, the Seimas Ombudsman aimed to remind that international human rights standards guarantee the right of every person to the highest standard of health care, even in an emergency.

In a letter addressed to the Ministry of Social Security and Labour and Lithuanian municipalities, the attention was drawn to the fact that the virus poses higher risk to groups of society living in close proximity to each other as well as to older people; therefore, the risk is particularly high for residents and employees of social care institutions where the virus can spread extremely fast. The Seimas Ombudsman noted that, because of the vulnerability of the people living in these institutions, awareness of special precautionary measures among care staff to protect themselves and the residents is particularly relevant and necessary during this pandemic.

The Seimas Ombudsman calls for compliance with the requirements of legal acts regulating measures for the prevention and control of communicable diseases, according to which it is necessary to update emergency plans, constantly inform employees about the changing situation, reminding them what actions they should take to prevent the spread of the virus. It is also particularly important to comply with general hygiene requirements in order to avoid overcrowding of the residents’, provide and prepare isolation rooms as well as to guarantee provision of the necessary hygiene and protection measures to the residents and the staff. 

The Seimas Ombudsman notes that guidelines issued by various global and regional organisations on preventive measures and the protection of human rights during the COVID-19 pandemic should also be followed. The guidelines emphasize the need for public authorities to establish a state-of-the-art coordination system linking the health and justice sectors, ensuring awareness of staff in penitentiary institutions and guaranteeing that all human rights are respected.

In guaranteeing preventive and control measures against the virus, the dignity of the residents must be respected and their rights secured; moreover, restrictions must be applied in accordance with the principles of lawfulness, accountability and proportionality and limited only to what is strictly necessary. Residents should also be able to communicate with their family and loved ones by telephone and other means of telecommunications, receive parcels from relatives and, if necessary, get appropriate assistance.

The Seimas Ombudsman also notes that social care institutions should resolve the issue of receiving residents' pensions (for example, by temporarily storing residents' pensions in cash in the safe of the institution), and ways must be sought to ensure periodical shopping opportunities for residents. The facility, with an enclosed yard, should allow residents, depending on their independence, to stay in the fresh air for some period of time. The Seimas Ombudsman also observes that employment should be organized individually or only for small groups; additional psychological assistance should be provided to the population during this period.

 The Seimas Ombudsmen protect a person‘s right to good public administration securing human rights and freedoms, and supervise fulfilment by state authorities of their duty to properly serve the people. The Seimas Ombudsmen also conduct national prevention of torture in places of deprivation of liberty in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Seimas Ombudsmen's Office is a national human rights institution accredited by the United Nations.

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