Saturday, August 13

Who defends us from the Administration?

The figure of the Síndic de Greuges is a treasure that we have in Catalonia. Of course, it is not a single institution, quite the contrary: it is part of a wide collection of ombudsman, human rights defenders that ensure the proper functioning of the administration and the well-being of people around the world. The United Nations calls them “National Human Rights Institutions (INDH)”, adds that “they play an essential role in promoting and monitoring the effective application of international human rights law at the national level” and are governed by the Paris Principles. However, its existence at the regional and local level is not so widespread. We can even say that there are not a few places whose presence is unknown or their performances go unnoticed. This is not the case in Catalonia, where Rafael Ribó’s eighteen years in office have been extremely prolific, with relevant reports and statements for the political and social agenda.

In Spain, beyond the Ombudsman at the state level –regulated by article 54 CE–, we have nine regional institutions of this kind today. It should be borne in mind that in 2013, for reasons of austerity and “administrative efficiency”, the defenders of the people of Castilla la Mancha and La Rioja were suppressed, and that a year ago Vox promoted – without success – the suppression of the Andalusian figure . At the local level, there are also local ombudsmen and unions, grouped in the Local Ombudsmen and Ombudsmen Forum (with 41 syndicates from Catalonia and 6 from the rest of the State), with high involvement and positioning in favor of human rights from municipalism.

On May 31, Ribó gave a conference on “the state of rights in Catalonia”. This closing ceremony of the mandate was attended by a curious amalgamation of entities and social movements, personalities from institutional politics, journalists and public officials, a symbol of the important role that the Ombudsman has played during this time. Certainly, the end of his mandate has not been without controversy: on the one hand, due to his firm support for the right to self-determination of Catalonia, whose voice has resonated internationally and even in the United Nations. On the other hand, due to the difficulty in obtaining an institutional replacement: he has had to remain in office for almost three years with the mandate expired, as a result of the political disagreement between the parliamentary groups that elect him.

However, for those of us who work on human rights, there is a third element that is key in his term of office and that the Catalan Ombudsman does not miss an opportunity to raise: the formation of the Human Rights Structure of Catalonia, in 2017, with a broad representation of social entities and experts. The main task of this Structure was the creation of the Human Rights Plan of Catalonia: an ambitious and innovative document, approved in December 2019 after a vast process of social participation. As long as said plan does not remain in a drawer, the Structure itself has opted for the elaboration of indicators for each of the objectives that allow evaluating the degree of implementation of the same.

However, these valuable first steps will greatly reduce their ability to influence if public institutions do not take the dissemination of the Plan and its follow-up seriously. Publicizing the existence of the Human Rights Plan and carrying out a campaign in the media on the advanced framework for defending the rights of citizens is, today, a pending task for the Catalan government. Meanwhile, at the state level, the Ministry of the Presidency, Relations with the Courts and Democratic Memory is preparing the II National Human Rights Plan, after ten years of inexplicable vacancy since the previous one (2008-2012) expired.

It seems that, on the one hand, human rights matter little, and the promotion of civil society is necessary for the approval of plans and their follow-up. However, on the other hand, the appointment of those people who have to ensure compliance usually generates significant disputes. Recently, this was the case with the state Ombudsman, appointed Ángel Gabilondo four years late, with the local Sindicatura of the city of Barcelona or with the long replacement of Rafael Ribó, and it is enough to see the aforementioned Vox proposal for Andalusia. In a context of war, economic crisis and the rise of the extreme right, the coming years will be key to consolidating our human rights structures. This task, although it must be nurtured by joint work with entities and organizations, cannot depend on their insistence, capacity and good will: it is urgent to strengthen the NHRIs at the state, regional and local levels and deploy the plans with adequate funding, as as the United Nations has recommended on multiple occasions.