The Austrian Ombudsman Board (AOB) has been striving for democracy and the rule of law internationally for a number of years, actively supports human rights projects and uses bilateral contacts as a valuable opportunity to exchange information and knowledge with ombudsman institutions worldwide.
The AOB is a reliable partner for the protection of human rights and the development of the rule of law at the European and international level. Accordingly, its members, but also its staff, have been actively participating in the most varied projects on the international level.
OPCAT: The legal constitutional mandate for protecting human rights as a “National Prevention Mechanism” (NPM) is based on two significant legal instruments of the United Nations. The first instrument is the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) and the second instrument is the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The standards developed by the UN Subcommission on Prevention of Torture (SPT) and the European Commission on the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) in particular must be complied with.
As a natural consequence of its role as National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) the AOB is very eager to engage with other NPMs and human rights institutions. Since October 2013, the AOB as a NPM has also been a member of the South-East Europe NPM Network (SEE NPM Network). This association of ombudsman institutions from Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia and Austria, which have been entrusted with NPM responsibilities, is a dynamic forum where knowledge and experiences are shared and mutual support is provided. In 2016 the Austrian NPM is chairing the network.
After its reaccreditation that was completed in 2011 as a National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), the AOB is represented on the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of National Human Rights Institutions with a B-status. As in previous years, former Ombudsman Kostelka attended the annual meeting of the ICC in Geneva in May 2013. Additionally, the AOB regularly provided expertise about areas relevant to human rights for reports and internal working papers of the OHCHR and participated actively in the preparations for the establishment of an ICC secretariat for the NHRIs in the European region. In April of 2013 former Ombudsman and Secretary General of the IOI Peter Kostelka met Debbie Kohner, the new director of the Permanent Secretariat of the European Group of National Human Rights Institutions at his office in Vienna. The Secretariat will coordinate 40 Human Rights Institutions all over Europe and cooperate with the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of NHRIs, the UN, the Council of Europe, the institutions of the European Union, the OSCE and other regional partners.
In January 2011, the human rights situation in Austria came under scrutiny as part of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The subject of this evaluation was whether and how Austria has implemented its obligations along the entire human rights spectrum. The AOB played an active role in preparations for this review, both in Austria and at the international level, and was represented by former Ombudswoman Terezija Stoisits at the key meeting of the Human Rights Council in January 2011.
The AOB has actively participated in the OSCE dialogue concerning the responsibilities, challenges and opportunities for further development of national human rights institutions. In May 2013, Ombudswoman Gertrude Brinek attended a meeting of the OSCE Human Rights Dimension Committee in Vienna where she talked about the experience of the AOB as national human rights institution and its development since 1977. She stressed the importance of preventive monitoring in order to exclude human rights violations.
The goal of the EU-funded twinning project "Support for the Strengthening of the Serbian Ombudsman" (2009 – 2011) was to help Serbia’s ombudsman institution, which was only established in 2007, to improve its work. The AOB supported the two-year long twinning project, which was headed by the Greek and the Dutch ombudsman institutions, by sending experts several times to provide in-country assistance. On the occasion of a three-day study visit in Vienna, the sharing of information was focused on the AOB’s communication with the citizens and the media, as well as the reporting system. The AOB was also represented at the closing conference of the twinning project in September 2011 in Belgrade.
International conferences and visits
The AOB is regularly represented at numerous international conferences that are focused on the areas within its mandate. In April 2013 an expert of the AOB participated in the 9th International Human Rights Forum Luzern (IHRF) which dealt with "Human Rights and Persons with Disabilities". In addition the AOB took part in the 6th Fundamental Human Rights Platform Meeting of the European Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA).
Furthermore, the AOB is visited frequently by international delegations and thus, promotes the transfer of knowledge between the Ombudsman Institutions. In April 2013 Sir Nigel Rodley was informed on the new role of the AOB as National Human Rights Institution. Sir Nigel is chair of the Human Rights Center at the University of Essex (GB), currently chair of the UN Human Rights Committee and president of the International Commission of Jurists. Further persons and institutions visiting the AOB in 2013: Salla Saastamoinen (European Commission), a Delegation of the Petitions Committee of the German Bundestag, Catherine De Bruecker and Guido Schuermans (Federal Ombudsman of Belgium), as well as representatives of Zulu Natal (Petitions Committee from South Africa).
International Ombudsman Institute
The International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) links currently 205 independent public sector ombudsman institutions worldwide that monitor and control public administration at the national, regional, and local level. The IOI has six regional groups in Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Pacific, the Caribbean and Latin America, as well as North America and Europe and has members from more than 105 countries.