The role of ombudsmen is vital to the proper functioning of a democracy and needs to be thoroughly protected and reinforced, an international conference of them heard in Nicosia on Tuesday.
Ombudsmen from all over Europe participated in the meeting, focused primarily at outlining and explaining the 25 Venice Principles, a list of independent, international standards for the ombudsman institution.
The Venice Principles, officially adopted on March 15, 2019, set out the standards against which national human rights institutions are judged.
They play a key role in protecting existing ombudsman offices who are facing threats, provide guidelines for the improvement of the institution and set a template for new offices where none are present.
“Reinforcing and protecting the ombudsman’s institution means taking a stand for human rights,” Cyprus ombudswoman Maria Stylianou-Lottides said.
“The institution is fundamental in a democracy, its proper functioning is an indicator of a good governance.
“Ombudsmen and ombudswomen face continuous threats. Whether they are in the form of budget cuts, verbal accusations or even, in some cases, physical harm, these threats undermine our work, which means they undermine democracy as a whole.
“Cyprus is no stranger to these threats. I believe the Venice Principals are essential in helping people understand our institution and our mission,” she said.
Stylianou-Lottides’ remarks were echoed by Zacharias Zachariou, chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Institutions for Cyprus, who made the opening address.
“The House of Representatives in Cyprus cooperates closely with the ombudswoman, as it recongnises its importance.
“Safeguarding the institution’s independence means allowing it to work properly and protect human rights in our country.”
The President of the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) Peter Tyndall praised the ombudswoman’s work.
“Ms Stylianou-Lottides sets an example for ombudsman and ombudswomen around the world.
“Her strong reputation is justified when we look at her accomplishments so far in Cyprus.
“She is combating malpractices in the government, acting as a safeguard for human rights and she is making sure the rule of law is respected and enforced in the correct way,” he said.
“Ombudsmen and ombudswomen need to be recognised as equivalent as the legal courts,” Tyndall said.