Ombudsman – An Institution Protecting The Rights Of Citizens


The concept of an Ombudsman has taken root as governments across the Caribbean seek to deal with the challenges inherent in the protection of the rights of their citizens.
Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Senator A. J. Nicholson, made this observation while addressing the Third Regional General Conference of the Caribbean Ombudsman Association (CAROA), being held at Breezes Hotel, in Runaway Bay, St. Ann.
The five-day (May 10-14) conference, sponsored by the Government of Jamaica and The Commonwealth Secretariat, is being held under the theme “The Ombudsman, A Champion of Social Justice and Human Rights”. Participants from more than 10 countries in the Caribbean, Central America and Africa are in attendance.
Noting that the office of the Ombudsman originated in Sweden some two centuries ago, the Justice Minister said in the case of Jamaica, the first appointment was made in 1978, “as we implemented a response mechanism for our citizens”. He added that other Caribbean countries including Trinidad &Tobago, St. Lucia, Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda, Belize, Dominican Republic and Haiti had also appointed an Ombudsman.
“The Ombudsman, as a protector of citizens of a country against the abuse of power and their human rights, is a singular important institution in the pursuit of democratic governance,” Minister Nicholson said, pointing out that the need for such an institution represented a response to the lack of an outlet in the systems and processes of states to receive complaints or representations from citizens with respect to the violation of their rights by public agents or agencies.
To that end, he said, the scope of the office had grown to include mechanisms for representation and compensation in an increasing number of jurisdictions, adding that the handling of issues relating to maladministration in operations of the state had always been a part of the thinking that had formed the creation of the office.
Noting that, in the Caribbean, there was much to “shout about” in the protection of those fundamental rights, which related to free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association and freedom of religion, the Attorney General said, “these identify some of the hallmarks of an open, free and democratic society”.
He said, at the same time, it could not be doubted that in recent years, the administration of justice across the Caribbean, which had enjoyed a long and noble tradition, defined by the principles of impartiality and strict adherence to the rule of law, had come under pressure as a result of several factors.
The Justice Minister noted that while the duties of the Ombudsman could not be geared merely toward addressing the inefficiencies that existed within the justice system, he could not ignore the fact that those inefficiencies contributed in varying degrees, to a reduction in public confidence with the resulting implications of a resort to informal means of obtaining justice as evidenced by reprisal killings and extreme forms of vigilantism.
“And so, commitment to the establishment of this office in the countries of the Caribbean is clearly underpinned by an enlightened consciousness of civil rights and responsibilities and an obligation to transparency and good governance,” he said.
Noting that the protection of rights seemed to have ripened into an industry, Mr. Nicholson said, “Our people demand justice in all areas where they feel that their rights included have been trampled upon, so the refrain ‘we want justice’ is an all-embracing association with ills of all sectors including health, education, environment, roads, and transportation”.
“The challenges to the Ombudsman in the Caribbean, therefore, included nudging the authorities to ensure that all persons, irrespective of their physical or mental condition, enjoy the full protection of the law,” he stressed, adding that substantial improvement should be made to the old provisions dealing with the mentally challenged, victims of crime, and young persons who were required to give detailed narratives of atrocities committed against them, in the presence of their assailants.
The Ombudsman’s office was established solely for the purpose of giving assistance to persons who believed that they have suffered injustices at the hands of public officers employed by Government agencies and departments, as a result of maladministration. Examples of maladministration are, unnecessary delays, bias, failure to follow proper procedures, negligence, wrong decisions and improper service.

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