European ombudsmen meet in Budapest to discuss minority rights

14-05-2004

In Budapest, ombudsmen from about 20 European countries held their general assembly this week. The ombudsman is a parliamentary institution which is protecting the rights of citizens against misuse by the state administration, or any kind of administration. This institution is exactly ten years old in Hungary. At the Budapest conference, special attention was paid to the representation and protection of ethnic and national minorities.

BudapestBudapest The institution of the ombudsman was introduced in a period when major changes were taking place in Hungary and in other Central and Eastern European countries. Parliamentary commissioner for the national and ethnic minority rights, Jeno Kaltenbach says the institution has had its own contribution to the democratic changes in the region.

"Our contribution was relevant to the democratic changes in our country because we gave people the impression that the state is not something alien, something which is only suppressing citizens but the state is for the citizens and not against. There is a remedy if the state misuses powers."

There are over three hundred minorities living in the 36 European countries, in other words every seventh European belongs to a minority. One of them are the Roma - with about 8 million people - who are present in almost every country, including Hungary.

"I think it's not a surprising thing that mostly with problems of discrimination against the Roma in our country, this is something which is well known in Europe and appears in other countries as well but in Eastern Europe it is simply because of the situation of the population. This is much more relevant. This discrimination have the same features as discrimination all over Europe. They appear in the field of education, employment, housing and some other fields."

Although there has been a progress made by the Council of Europe, the European Union and some nation states in protecting the rights of minorities in the past ten years, the emancipation of minorities rights cannot be considered as resolved.

"If you have a look at the human rights system in the nation states and in the international field too and if you compare that with the system of minority rights, you can feel a big gap between the two fields. So, I think we have to do something against this gap; we have to eliminate it. We don't have a binding list of minority rights. There are some countries in which minority rights are not even known and acknowledged. So, it is a case where the minority rights system is completely missing. Unfortunately the conviction that human rights cover minority rights too or that minority rights belong to the human rights system is not very well known all over the world and then it's not a conviction of everybody."

Mr Kaltenbach says there is a need for a change in the way of thinking of the people, of politicians and of many legal experts, too. The Budapest meeting has had a similar message.

"It was a good opportunity to confront ombudsmen with the fact that the field of minority rights isn't completely covered even by the ombudsman institutions and that this is something which can start a change in the way of thinking."

Due to a conflict over the interpretation of the rules, the election of the officials to head the European Ombudsman Institute was postponed.

14-05-2004

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