The Ombudsman as National Human Rights Institution

The Portuguese Ombudsman, in addition to his traditional activity, according to the Swedish institutional matrix, has also, since 1999, the quality of National Human Rights Institution accredited with status A, in full compliance with the Paris Principles.

The concept of National Human Rights Institution encompasses a variety of state independent institutions whose nature and mandate, provided by the Constitution or by the law, is aimed at the promotion and protection of human rights.

The recognition of the quality of National Human Rights Institution includes organizations with very different nature, namely, Commissions, Human Rights Institutes and Ombudsmen.

In 1993, by the Resolution No. 48/134 of December 20th, the United Nations General Assembly established a set of principles regarding the status of these institutions, defining aspects of its composition, competence, functioning, guarantees of impartiality and pluralism. These principles became known as the Paris Principles and are considered as the minimum standard that should be respected by all National Human Rights Institutions.

Also in 1993 it was set up the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC), with the mission to assess the compliance of these institutions with those principles, through a process of accreditation and re-accreditation that can result three classifications: A (fully compliant), B (some non-conforming aspects) and C (non-compliant).

The international community recognizes the National Human Rights Institutions accredited with A status a key role in the effectiveness of national systems for the promotion and protection of human rights, recognizing them as essential partners in the international organizations.

This importance is especially evident in the United Nations, where, increasingly, it has been recognized a specific set of rights to participation, especially in the Human Rights Council, by submission of information, attendance at meetings and autonomous oral presentations.

In Portugal the Ombudsman is the National Human Rights Institution. The promotion and defence of human rights is closely linked to this State body because of the Ombudsman’s constitutional design and legal mandate, which focus on the  protection and promotion of fundamental rights, not only in the search for a just solution in face of actions or omissions by the administration.

From a thematic point of view, such an approach is revealed with particular intensity in certain areas, for example, in the matter of the penitentiary system and the rights of prisoners, to the rights of foreigners and migrants and also the rights of children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

It is also very important to mention the activities developed by the Ombudsman as the National Human Rights Institution, regarding the dissemination and education for human rights.

Finally, the focus of human rights still has repercussions in the definition of the Ombudsman’s powers, namely the recommendation – particularly the legislative recommendation – and the initiative to challenge laws before the Constitutional Court.

These two prerogatives, in particular, combined with the ability to intervene by his own initiative, allow the Ombudsman to contribute to the greatest possible alignment of the Portuguese law and practice with international law in the domain of human rights, as well as the recommendations issued by the International monitoring bodies in respect for these rights.

On the other hand, the knowledge and experience acquired by the Ombudsman in the exercise of his functions allows the possibility to provide the international organizations an unbiased and detailed perspective of the human rights situation in Portugal.

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