IOI | President Peter Tyndall speaks about human rights under pressure at the European Forum Alpbach 2019

IOI | President Peter Tyndall speaks about human rights under pressure at the European Forum Alpbach 2019

September 26, 2019

The European Forum Alpbach 2019 hosted a breakout session by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and the IOI on “Human Rights Under Pressure: The Role of Ombudspersons and National Human Rights Institutions”. The IOI was represented by its President and Irish Ombudsman Peter Tyndall. In his speech Peter Tyndall initially highlighted different cases of Ombudsmen who have recently been threatened, criticised or even sued for fulfilling their duties and speaking up against maladministration and human rights abuses. He claimed that “threats to Ombudsman offices are not new, but have increased notably in recent years, not least because of the rise of populism.” Peter Tyndall went on explaining the role and development of the IOI and Ombudsman institutions as such. He pointed out that even if “the office of Ombudsman was not initially explicitly established as a human rights body, human rights are at the heart of the work of all public services Ombudsman offices”. “In 2019, most members of the IOI are and the IOI by-laws now make clear that we ourselves are human rights organisations.” Peter Tyndall said that “in Africa, in Latin America and in Central and Eastern Europe, the development of new Ombudsman offices, often in countries with emerging democracies or in those returning to democracy, saw a strong trend towards combining the NHRI function with the Ombudsman’s office.” Regarding the relationship between an Ombudsman institution and a country´s government Peter Tyndall holds that “Ombudsman offices doing their jobs will inevitably on occasions disagree with their governments.” He states that Ombudsman institutions can particularly play an important role when the political atmosphere is highly charged by maintaining a focus on rights issues. “Having independent, objective, rights-based accountability bodies allows focus on the protection of rights when other voices are supressed. A great strength of the Ombudsman approach is the focus on individuals and their stories. This personalisation can be a sharp contrast to the sloganeering which often sadly characterises the populist voices who are becoming increasingly strident and influential”, Peter Tyndall argues. Peter Tyndall concludes by pointing out that the tools available to the IOI and Ombudsman institutions can be effective to strive against the pressure put on those fighting against human rights abuses, discrimination and maladministration. “The Ombudsman concept has proved a hugely successful mechanism for holding Government to account. It has delivered on its original intention of tackling the power imbalance between the individual and the State. It has found redress for individuals, and also brought about improvements to services and the law. It has always operated in a human rights space, but over time, has done so more explicitly and to great effect. It continues to innovate and evolve in the face of the changing challenges and opportunities it faces. It has been embedded into growing numbers of democratic countries as a fundamental and often constitutional protection for individuals”, Peter Tyndall stated. The full speech of Peter Tyndall can be viewed here.

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