The Spanish Ombudsman made 2,175 recommendations and suggestions in 2017
The Spanish Ombudsman made 2,175 recommendations and suggestions in 2017
The Spanish Ombudsman sent to the administrations 2,175 resolutions in 2017, aimed at proposing regulatory changes and improving the lives of citizens.
Last year the Institution processed more than 24,750 complaints from citizens and exceeded 750 ex officio actions. In total, more than 25,550 files were managed.
During this period, several reports were published including the 2016 Annual Report, the 2016 Annual Report of the NPM, a guide on good practice concerning mechanical restraints in detention centres and two case studies on the protection of vulnerable consumers in the field of electric power and on the situation of celiac people.
RELEVANT ACTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The most relevant issues addressed throughout the year were:
Protection of vulnerable consumers in the field of electrical energy
The high price of electricity in Spain is of particular concern to the Ombudsman, who has stressed that electricity is an essential good for life and an essential condition for the enjoyment of other fundamental rights such as education, health or decent housing.
For this reason, it keeps several actions open with public administrations and has recommended, among other proposals, to reduce the fixed part of the electricity bill in such a way that savings are encouraged; protect vulnerable consumers against power outages and, recently, reduced VAT on electricity.
The new regulation of the discount rate approved this year by the Government includes several of the recommendations made by the Institution that, in the study Protection of vulnerable consumers in the field of electric power, advocated to protect especially homes where minors reside, elderly people and people with disabilities.
The legislation establishes income as criteria for accessing the discount rate and introduces measures that protect consumers in the free market, as requested by the Ombudsman. It also contemplates that the supply for non-payment will not be cut without first verifying with the social services the possible situation of vulnerability of the affected consumers. Other recommendations included in the new electric discount rate are the modulation of the income threshold to protect certain groups (minors, seniors and people with disabilities).
Residences for the elderly
In line with its concern to protect the most vulnerable groups of society, the Ombudsman initiated in 2017 an ex-officio action with all the Autonomous Communities and the Autonomous Cities of Ceuta and Melilla to examine the characteristics and provisions of nursing homes.
The Ombudsman is particularly concerned about the situation of these people and considers that the age of the population and the application of the Dependency Law make residential care services a fundamental element in the care of these people. For this reason, it wants to detect the existing difficulties for these citizens to access services that are appropriate to their needs.
Copayments for health care
The Institution has recommended to the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality that it modifies the Law on Guarantees and Rational Use of Medicines, known as the Law of Medicines, in order to increase the protection of vulnerable groups and ensure that these people can access the medicines that they need.
Among the measures proposed, there are some that stand out such as the exemption from co-payment, or the application of a minimum percentage, to patients affected by chronic and serious diseases (among others, rare, degenerative and oncological diseases), especially when dealing with minors. The Institution also considers necessary to exempt from the copayment persons with disabilities with a recognized degree and persons with economic incomes of any nature that do not exceed a minimum threshold, which will be determined according to the poverty risk indicators.
In addition, the Ombudsman believes that the current income groups are insufficient (from 0 to 18,000, from 18,001 to 100,000 and more than 100,000 Euros) and therefore requests that new groups and co-payment percentages be established that correspond better with the constitutional principles of progressivity and equity.
The Ombudsman has recommended to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and Environment to jointly evaluate the cumulative impacts of the four projects that provide for the exploitation and storage of gas in the Doñana area.
The Institution wants that different alternatives to gas storage are considered and that it is guaranteed, with a degree of certainty consistent with its ecological relevance, that the space will not be negatively affected by the injection and storage of gas, as well as that the seismic risks are reduced to the minimum possible.
In the opinion of the Ombudsman, the fact that there is no proper environmental assessment that offers conclusive results on the safety of the projects and the shortcomings warned by the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain (IGME), prevent a reasonably assurance that effects derived from projects that adversely affect this space will occur.
Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems at a global, European and local level. Several Spanish locations exceeded the recommended levels of pollution by suspended particles, according to the latest estimates of the World Health Organization (WHO) on urban air pollution.
For this reason, the Ombudsman keeps open an action ex officio before 15 Spanish municipalities -A Coruña, Aviles, Barcelona, Bilbao, Ciudad Real, Gijón, Granada, León, Madrid, Murcia, Santander, Seville, Toledo, Valencia and Zaragoza- in order to learn the measures that they are contemplating to implement to tackle urban atmospheric pollution and the information provided to the population.
Men’s violence against women is of special concern to the Ombudsman. The Institution considers that the different administrations must fight against this scourge with two approaches: gender and childhood.
In November, the Defensor organized the Conference “Advancing towards the effective protection of the children of women victims of gender-based violence” in which he claimed improvements in the protection of the children of women victims of gender violence. In this meeting, the Defensor del Pueblo, Francisco Fernández Marugán, affirmed that “an abuser can not be a good father” and advocated granting rapid and effective protection to the children of women victims of gender violence to prevent more murders of minors at the hands of their abusive parents.
In terms of immigration, the Institution has continued its work in defence of the rights of migrants. Fernández Marugán has demanded improvements in the system of first reception of immigrants and has requested adequate infrastructures with personnel and resources to effectively attend the arrivals of people in an irregular situation.
It has also formulated recommendations to improve the social, legal and cultural assistance provided in the Internment Facilities for Foreigners (CIE). The Institution initiated an ex officio action that has led to these recommendations after detecting numerous deficiencies in the visits made to these centres. The Regulations of the CIE pointed to the need for a profound reform in these centres that the Ombudsman does not appreciate that has occurred in social, cultural and legal assistance.
In addition, it keeps track of the situation in which the people interned in the Málaga Penitentiary Centre II (Archidona) which functions as a temporary CIE. After a first visit to these facilities, the Ombudsman made ten suggestions and a reminder of legal duties to the General Directorate of the Police so that the people interned there enjoy the same rights and guarantees as in a CIE. Technicians of the Institution, in their double condition of High Commissioner of the Cortes Generales and National Mechanism of Prevention of the Torture, have visited the facilities and have supervised the expulsion of some of the inmates to Oran (Algeria).
Protection of students with disabilities
The Institution continued working in 2017 to defend the rights of students with disabilities. An example of this is the recommendation addressed to the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports so that students with learning problems and ADHD can benefit from the aid aimed at students with specific needs for educational support.
Another outstanding action by the Ombudsman in this area is the recommendation to the State Secretariat for Education, Vocational Training and Universities to establish the obligation to reserve a minimum percentage of master’s and doctorate positions for students with disabilities. The Institution also initiated an ex officio action before the Spanish public universities to find out if their admission procedures for this type of studies have a percentage of places reserved for students with disabilities.
Taxation on tourist rentals
The Ombudsman has proposed to approve a tax regulation that clearly defines the requirements for tourist rentals when they are carried out by individuals who do not exercise a business or professional activity. This recommendation, sent to the Secretary of State of the Treasury, aims to dictate clear guidelines to avoid the current legal uncertainty and help taxation for the real income received.
Prisoners and vulnerable people Peru
In September, technicians from the Ombudsman supervised a FRONTEX flight that departed from Barajas with final destination Lima and stopped in Bogota to expel more than 50 foreigners in an irregular situation. The return flight was used to bring to Spain 67 Spaniards, of whom 32 were prisoners who will serve the rest of their sentence in Spain, and another 35 who were repatriated for humanitarian reasons.
The Institution recommended that the Ministry of the Interior use the FRONTEX repatriation flights that are carried out from Spain to bring back Spanish prisoners. Thus, it welcomes the acceptance of this recommendation that has materialized in this flight and in an earlier one that was also supervised by the Ombudsman’s technicians.
Strike driving test examiners
The Ombudsman welcomed the decision of driving test examiners to call off the strike after five months of work stoppages. Last June, after receiving more than 1,700 citizen complaints, actions were initiated and information was requested from the General Directorate of Traffic (DGT) on the progress in the negotiations with the strike organizers. The Institution complained to the DGT about urgent measures, and was interested in the possible structural deficit that those in charge of granting the driver’s license face and met with representatives of the Association of Traffic Examiners (Asextra).
Extradition of Turkish journalists
The Institution opened an ex officio investigation after hearing about the arrests of Turkish journalists Hamza Yalçin and Dogan Akhanli, both subject to a passive extradition process at the request of Turkey. The Ombudsman demanded that the current situation of Human Rights in Turkey be taken into account when establishing the phases of the extradition process for the two journalists. Finally, the Government rejected the extradition of both citizens.
In addition, it keeps open an action before the General Directorate of the Police on the functioning of the so-called “red alerts” of the Interpol that allow the police of a country to arrest a person wanted in another country.
Activity of the National Preventive Mechanism against Torture (NPM)
In 2017, the NPM carried out more than 100 visits to detention centres and made 64 recommendations, 518 suggestions and 4 reminders of legal duties. He also initiated 156 ex officio files.