The Ombudsman: 40 years, almost a million complaints, 60 reports, and over 5000 resolutions

The Ombudsman: 40 years, almost a million complaints, 60 reports, and over 5000 resolutions


Last Tuesday 6th of April marked 40 years since the resolution of the Organic Law 3/1981 which regulates and establishes the figure of the Spanish Ombudsman.

All over this four decades of history, the Institution has processed 999.358 complaints, has formulated 25376 resolutions to the Administrations, and has also brought 31 appeals of unconstitutionality, as well as 11 appeals for legal protection before the Constitutional Court.

Since the complaints, inquiries, and visits of citizens started from the very beginning, the Institution has been a pioneer in opening debates of special interest of the citizenship, and many of its recommendations have provoked changes in law and improvements in the application of fundamental rights.

At the end of 2009, the Ombudsman assumed the task of being a National Preventive Mechanism Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (MNP) and, since, it has conducted more than 1000 visits to places of privation of liberty.

Throughout this time, the Institution has also become a benchmark for other similar institutions in the world. Thus, the Spanish Ombudsman has inspired reforms such as those of the French or the Moroccan Ombudsman and has helped to the creation and consolidation of others, namely those of Turkey, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Armenia, and Kazakhstan. Additionally, it collaborates actively with the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Network of National Institutions for Human Rights, the Iberoamerican Federation of the Ombudsman, and the Mediterranean Ombudsman Association.


Case studies

The Ombudmsan Office is a privileged observatory to discover and value the different variations of each Administration. With all the collected and analysed data, various reports and case studies are published each year, which lead to conclusions and recommendations for the improvement of the performance of the Administration, always considering the benefit of citizens.

During these 40 years, the Institution has published 60 monographic reports covering a wide range of themes, as well as the annual reports where its activities are collected, and some others that are made as an NPM.

The first monographic report saw the light of the day in 1987, and it analysed the prison conditions in Spain, a matter all Ombudsmen have given lots of attention to during their mandates given the special vulnerability of these groups. The last study conducted on behalf of this issue was published in 2019 and it focused on the reality of the imprisoned peoples with disabilities.

The Institution has also carried out different monographs of the residences for the elderly. The second case study of the Ombudsman and one of the latest was dedicated to these centres. Furthermore, the situation of the residences motivated plenty of interventions since the beginning of the pandemic. At the end of 2020, the Ombudsman presented a monographic report of the work of the institution during the pandemic, which included its performance.

The centers for the protection of minors and destined to young offenders have also been analysed in the reports of the Institution. Moreover, in 2009 the Ombudsman made public a report of minors with conduct disorders and in situations of social difficulty, which marked a before and an after in this type of centres, due to the numerous changes in its structure and functioning that it later enhanced.

With regards to migration, it should be noted that the first publication of the Ombudsman focused on legal aid to foreigners. The conclusions of this report were gathered in the law of free legal aid. There have also been reports made regarding the determination of the age of unaccompanied foreign minors, the situation of asylum and international protection, the contribution of migration to the Spanish economy, or the most recent study on the migration in the Canary islands.

In 1998, the first report on gender-based violence was published. When these crimes were almost no discussed, the Ombudsman warned denouncing this silent violence that numerous women were suffering each year. Another form of violence, also exerted in many cases against women is the trafficking of human beings, at which the Institution aimed a monographic.

The situation of legal and assistance situation for the mentally ill has also been an object of analysis for the Ombudsman. In fact, regarding health work, there have been conducted reports on the waiting list, the situation of hospital emergencies, brain injuries, problems of people with celiac disease, or specific attention to acquired brain damage of children.

In the economic ground, different documents have been published concerning mortgagors, preference shares, economic crisis and personal insolvency, planning licenses, the cadastral reality, the situation of the telecommunications field, or the protection of vulnerable electricity consumers. The most recent, based on economic crisis and inequality, analysed the consequences of the economic crisis in the application of social rights.

When it comes to disability, plenty of studies have been conducted to analyse either the residential care to people with disability or the taxation that affects them.

As for education, numerous studies have been made analysing scholar violence, the issue of the migrant students, or the free condition of textbooks.

Housing has also been an object study for the Ombdusman, through some publications being made on this problem. The last one focused on protected housing and social renting.

Environmental concerns such as municipal waste management, noise pollution, atmospheric pollution or water, and spatial planning have also been analysed.

In terms of justice, there have also been inspections on the delays of the judicial administration, active listening to minors in family processes and criminal proceedings, or the rights of victims of terrorism. Studies on the injury reports and a guide of good practices in terms of contentions have been carried out, too.

Throughout the years, reports on the demographic situation in Spain, Spanish prisoners in foreign countries, the security of play areas for children or the situations of public administrations and public employment have been conducted, too.


Six mandates

The Ombudsman is elected by the General Courts, with 3/5 of the composition of the members of the Congress, and ratified right after by the same majority of the Senate. The mandate consists of five years, after which the first assistant assumes the role of Ombudsman in office, until the new head is elected.

Since 1982, there have been five Ombudsmen. The first to desempeñar el cargo was Joaquín Ruiz-Giménez, whose naming was published on December 30th, 1982. Four months later, his two assistants, Álvaro Gil-Robles and Margarita Retuerto were named.

The second term began in 1988 and its head was Álvaro Gil-Robles, who was accompanied by Margarita Retuerto and Soledad Mestre as first assistant and second assistant, respectively. In December of 1990, Mestre was substituted by Antonio Rovira.

After the end of the second term, Retuerto assumed the position of the Ombudsman in office until the appointment of Fernando Álvarez de Miranda as the new Ombudsman happened on December 1st, 1994. In this third term, Retuerto and Rovira repeated their role as assistants, although in October of 1996 Rovira was designated first assistant and Antonio Uribarri as the second assistant, after the cease of Margarita Retuerto. Álvarez de Miranda finished his mandate on December 1st of 1999, and the position in office was occupied by the first assistant, Antonio Rovira.

The fourth term began in June of the year 2000, when the appointment of Enrique Múgica as the Ombudsman was published.

He, as well as his two assistants, María Luisa Cava de Llano and Manuel Aguilar, were re-elected to assume the fifth term of the Institution, which finished in July of 2010. From that moment, the position in office was developed by Cava de Llano, until two years later, when Soledad Becerril became the first woman to be appointed Ombudsman.

With her, Francisco Fernández Marugán and Concepció Ferrer i Casal were appointed assistants. After the term of Becerril finished in 2017, it was Fernández Marugán who occupied the position of Ombudsman in office, until today.

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