Human rights commissioner calls for new rights body

The government's human rights commissioner, Jan Jarab, has called for the establishment of a new institution to monitor conditions in orphanages, old peoples' homes, psychiatric clinics, prisons and other establishments. Olga Szantova asked him why he considered it necessary to create yet another organisation in the Czech Republic to protect human rights.

"The existing system of control in institutional care is, in our opinion, insufficient and that is, firstly, because there are inherited paternalistic approaches in these institutions, which also affect those who work within the same departments of government and therefore it influences them not to expect more than a kind of benevolent paternalism. And the second reason - there is no inter-departmental organism which could look at the parallels between these institutions, the mentally handicapped, or people with learning difficulties who are in institutions of social care, jails and people in police detention and all of these. And there are some common denominators. We do believe that it would be quite useful to have a commission to negotiate with the various ministries and try to find a suitable form."

Q: Which means discussing it with those institutions and organisations that are already running these orphanages and homes and so on. So, do you think their approach now would be different?

"It is highly necessary to co-operate with these institutions and we have sections which have been created as advisory to the Council for Human Rights, which are composed of people both from the civic sector and from the institutional sector, various departments of state and various institutions which are run by the state and these sections have come to the conclusion that it would be useful to have such a form of systematic control, which would not only look at the observance of laws, but also at the standard of human dignity and try to elevate these standards. Whether these departments will be interested in the idea, that's a question, of course, but I must say that in these sections we have people who work in these departments, who feel that there is such a need. Whether the top hierarchy in the ministries will think so, is a more difficult issue. That will be my role to negotiate."

Q: It sounds like an enormously huge project, with probably hundreds of people employed in it.

"I don't think so. I wouldn't envisage a project with hundreds of people employed. And I think that the number of institutions in the future should be decreasing. One of the positive outcomes of the work of such an institution, that we are now proposing, would be precisely to stimulate the process of de-institutionalisation. We have far too many people in institutional set-ups, while they could, with decent support, be living in the community. We have far too many people in prison, who could be doing alternative sentences. I would be slightly more optimistic."

Author: Olga Szantová
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