The Seimas Ombudsman’s Office – the National Human Rights Institution – has submitted its Activity Report of 2020 to the Seimas highlighting human rights concerns of the last year. The COVID-19 pandemic, which shook the world in 2020, also impacted the activities of the Seimas Ombudsmen, who repeatedly noted that during the pandemic it was especially important to ensure that residents of care homes and convicts had the opportunity to keep in touch with their family members. In other cases, when it was established that certain rights of individuals were violated due to the conditions of the pandemic, own-initiative investigations were started.
The Seimas Ombudsmen in their Activity Report note that a great deal of attention was paid to human rights at the events that took place during the reporting period. It should be emphasized that the most burning problems were presented to the Seimas Committee on Human Rights on a regular basis. These encompass the rights of residents of social care homes, the procedure for applying mediation in resolving family disputes as well as assurance of human rights in institutions subordinated to the Prison Department during the time of emergency. In addition, the problems faced by the disabled were discussed with members of the Independent Monitoring Committee on the Rights of People with Disabilities and the culmination of the year became an online event dedicated to the International Human Rights Day – the National Human Rights Forum.
The Activity Report submitted to the Seimas also presents an assessment of the human rights situation in the country in 2019–2020, which includes such areas as protection of personal data and privacy, LGBT + rights, rights of national minorities, hate crimes and hate speech, freedom of expression, mental health, the rights of people with disabilities, access to social services, institutional care for children, etc. The National Torture Prevention section of the Activity Report details the key issues that were observed in social care homes for adults, child care institutions, mental health facilities, temporary detention facilities of police stations, border guard services and boarder control posts. In the Activity Report, the Seimas Ombudsman also spoke about the importance of ensuring human honor and dignity in social care homes as well as social and economic rights, which primarily affect the most socially sensitive and vulnerable members of the society, e.g. the elderly, people with disabilities, etc.
The Activity Report also identifies a wide range of fundamental human rights problems examined by the Seimas Ombudsmen, i.e. accessibility of social services for persons with disabilities and the elderly in municipalities; problems arising from the use of physical force by law enforcement officials in their activities; the imposition of measures restricting human rights and freedoms during the COVID pandemic; providing assistance to those who have experienced domestic violence; problems arising in the provision of psychological services to persons living in social care institutions; ensuring access to justice in environmental matters; ensuring the rights of persons living in social care institutions during the quarantine period.
The Seimas Ombudsmen note that the applicants’ complaints raised problems regarding the actions of prison officials in improperly examining the applications and complaints of convicts, regarding the provision of medicines prescribed and / or recommended by doctors as well as food supplements. The Seimas Ombudsman also received complaints about the activities of the National Land Service under the Ministry of Agriculture as a state land trustee, which put no efforts to release the state owned land; the unjustifiably long process of forming new land plots in the city for the restoration of property rights; rental of suitable municipal social housing; problems in the provision of social support; activities of commissions formed by the Minister of Health, etc.
The Seimas Ombudsmen emphasise that they view the investigation of complaints as a system that allows identifying problems acute to the society and then resolving them.
During 2020, the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office examined a total of 1,643 complaints. 1,273 complaints (50% of which recognized as justified) were related to the activities of officials of state institutions and 364 complaints (48% of which recognized as justified) were related to the activities of officials of municipal institutions. The overall percentage of validity of all complaints received by the institution last year was 49%; compared to 2019, the number of complaints recognized as justified by the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office increased by 7 per cent.
In terms of topicality, more than one third of all complaints investigated by the Seimas Ombudsmen in 2020 were complaints related to restriction of liberty (38%), and about one third – to the examination of applications of individuals (27%); 6.5 percent of all complaints investigated by the Seimas Ombudsmen were related to the environment and 6 percent – to property issues. In 2020, compared to the previous year, the number of complaints from detainees and convicts increased steadily. Such complaints accounted for 21 per cent in 2016, for 26 per cent in 2017, for 31 per cent in 2018, for 36 per cent in 2019, and for 38 per cent in 2020.