On March 23, 2017, in line with the Paris Principles of the United Nations Resolution, the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office was accredited as a National Human Rights Institution with an “A” status; however, this status also had to be consolidated by the amendments to the Law on Seimas Ombudsmen (hereinafter the Law). The amendments granting the status of the National Human Rights Institution to the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office came into force on January 1, 2018.
Paragraph 2 of the Article 3 of the Law provides that one of the objectives of the Seimas Ombudsmen is to promote respect for human rights and freedoms while exercising the functions of the National Human Rights Institution, and Paragraph 2 of the Article 192 of the above-mentioned law establishes the functions of the National Human Rights Institution. The new amendments to the law provide for the duty of the state and municipal authorities to cooperate with the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office in providing information to the institution about the human rights situation in the country as well as initiating and conducting investigations on fundamental human rights issues.
Origin of the National Human Rights Institution
The origin and scope of the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) is closely linked to the international mechanism for the protection of human rights. The concept of the work of the NHRI was formulated in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 1993. Resolution No. 48/134, which encourages the Member States to set up NHRIs, emphasizes the need for such institutions to adhere to the principles governing their status, guidelines and core requirements (Paris Principles). The adopted document foresees that the status of the NHRI is granted to national institutions only if they are independent and able to ensure that objective human rights advocacy (opinion) on the progress of human rights in the country is provided to international human rights organisations. Moreover, irrespective of the state executive authorities, they have to participate in consideration of reports prepared by the State following the requirements of the provisions set in the UN human rights conventions.
According to the Paris Principles, the powers granted to the NHRI must be clearly set out in the Constitution or the law. For this reason the amendments to the Law on Seimas Ombudsmen (hereinafter – the Law) were adopted at the Seimas defining the scope of competence of the Seimas Ombudsmen in the performance of NHRI functions.
Main goals of the NHRI are to speak on various human rights issues and, in cooperation with the public, raise the urgent issues of human rights, to carry out other core functions of the NHRI as defined by the resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly.
Investigation of complaints from individual applicants and national prevention of torture are attributable to the functions of the NHRI, but are not required. The Seimas Ombudsmen, in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania and the Law on the Seimas Ombudsmen, investigate complainants‘ complaints about the abuse of office by and bureaucracy of the officials or other violations of human rights and freedoms in the sphere of public administration and carry out national prevention of torture; therefore, these functions are an integral part of the activities of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office accredited as the National Human Rights Institution.
Main functions of the NHRI, formulated in the Paris Principles, are:
(a) monitoring of human rights;
(b) advice to authorities on human rights issues;
(c) education and information of the public on human rights, dissemination of information on human rights;
d) presentation of the assessment of the human rights situation at international organisations;
e) preparation of reports on human rights;
(f) seeking harmonisation of national legislation regulations and practices with the international human rights instruments.
At the international level, NHRI is involved in the work of the UN and the relevant regional human rights organisations in Europe, e.g. the Council of Europe (EC) and other international organizations. It prepares alternative reports, advises on various human rights issues in international organisations, provides them with information, takes care of transposing international human rights standards, calls the state to fulfil international obligations in the field of human rights, and promotes respect for human rights in the country.
In implementing the functions of the NHRI, the Seimas Ombudsmen and the employees of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office will follow the Action Programme of the National Human Rights Institution for the year 2018-2020, which was approved by the order of the head of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office No. 1V-1 on January 2, 2018.