The Czech parliament elected this country's first ever ombudsman on Tuesday. Otakar Motejl, the former justice minister, has take on the difficult task of protecting the rights of Czech citizens, whenever they are infringed upon by unjust decisions taken by state officials, or, for that matter, when the authorities fail to act within a reasonable period of time. Olga Szantova reports:
Whether this country really needs a protector of citizens' rights has been discussed for some time. Many felt that creating yet another office to supervise the work of existing offices from local, through district and regional levels, all the way up to the ministries, was a waste of money. Others maintained that as long as shortcomings existed and the man in the street had nowhere to turn if he was mistreated, the country did need an ombudsman--originally a Swedish invention now installed in numerous other countries.
Otakar Motejl, the former minister of justice, has been a strong advocate of the need for a Czech ombudsman. In fact, when he resigned from the cabinet at the end of September, there was already some talk of his taking on the post, even though Mr Motejl himself stressed that the prospect of being appointed ombudsman was not his reason for resigning. He seems to have won strong backing from the lower house of parliament: 125 MPs voted for Otakar Motejl as the country's first ombudsman.
The general public welcomes the appointment; during his two years in office he was one of the most popular ministers in the cabinet. He also has a history of standing up for people's rights. 68-year-old Motejl finished his legal studies in 1955. During the 1968 Prague Spring, and until 1970, he was a member of the Supreme Court, in charge of rehabilitating the victims of political trials. When the hard-liners took over once more, that post ceased to exist and he renewed his legal practice, defending many prominent dissidents in the communist courts. In recognition of his work he received the American Lawyers' Association's annual award for the defense of human rights in 1991.
Ombudsman Motejl will certainly need all his determination and willpower when he is sworn in on December 18. His office in the town of Brno is still under reconstruction and won't be finished before the middle of next year. Despite that, it's already received 70 complaints and that number is expected to increase to some 15,000 to 20,000 within a year.
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