Commissioner for Human Rights visits Austrian Ombudsman Board

February 13, 2019

This week, Dunja Mijatović, Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe (CoE) since April 2018, paid a visit to the Austrian Ombudsman Board (AOB). Together with Ombudsman Günther Kräuter, Commissioner Mijatović discussed recent developments in the field of human rights, especially regarding migration, violence against women, children’s rights and the international tendency to restrict human rights. 

Ombudsman institutions under threat

Mr Kräuter and Ms Mijatović shared concerns about the fact that Ombudsman institutions more and more often operate under difficult circumstances or come under threat in CoE member states, as governments more often perceived their monitoring work as inconvenient. Pressure can be applied in various forms. First steps are often sophisticated and almost invisible measures such as budget cuts or widening the Ombudsman’s mandate without providing the necessary resources, explained Commissioner Mijatović.  

Ombudsman Kräuter informed the Commissioner about the Pension’s Commission which deals with pensions for victims of children’s homes and the AOB’s most recent accomplishments in this new field of work. Persons, who experienced violence and abuse in children’s homes run by public providers or the church, or during stays in hospitals, receive a monthly pension as acknowledgement of the suffering they experienced as a child. Recognizing the entitlement to a pension for those who were victims of violence in children’s homes could serve as a best practice example for other countries, where such cases of abuse become public, recommends Mr Kräuter.

Use of robots in nursing homes for the elderly

During her term of office, Commissioner Mijatović will put a specific focus on the topic of artificial intelligence. As an example, she mentioned the use of robots in nursing homes for the elderly, which is already discussed in Estonia. It is essential to take a closer look at this rapidly developing sector and to identify the human rights issues involved, especially when it comes to vulnerable groups such as older persons or persons with disabilities.

Ms Mijatović also showed great interest in the AOB’s weekly TV-show „Bürgeranwalt“, which has yet to be found elsewhere in the world and which is an important platform to raise awareness among the broader public about the AOB’s work and to increase its visibility.

The Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe carries out country visits on a regular basis to report about the human rights situation in the member states. Commissioner Mijatović announced her plans to carry out a country visit to Austria during her term of office.