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September 29, 2022



Czech lower house petition committee says it will not "take sides" in the dispute underway at the Office of the Public Defender of Rights, wants more frequent reporting

14.7.2022 14:00
Monika Šimůnková, Deputy Public Defender of Rights (left) and Public Defender of Rights Stanislav Křeček (2020). (PHOTO: official Facebook page of the Public Defender of Rights)
Monika Šimůnková, Deputy Public Defender of Rights (left) and Public Defender of Rights Stanislav Křeček (2020). (PHOTO: official Facebook page of the Public Defender of Rights)

The Czech Chamber of Deputies' Committee on Petitions met today for a third time to discuss what is happening at the Office of the Public Defender of Rights (the ombudsman). The current holder of that post, Stanislav Křeček, has removed the agenda from Deputy Public Defender of Rights Monika Šimůnková. 

The committee has announced it will not "take sides" with either official and is planning to meet more frequently to review the institution's work than it has done to date. How the authority functions will now be reviewed on a quarterly basis instead of twice a year. 

The Czech News Agency (ČTK) and public broadcaster Czech Television were informed of the committee's decision after its closed session today by its chair, Czech MP Tomio Okamura ("Freedom and Direct Democracy" - SPD). Křeček took the Deputy Public Defender of Rights' agenda away from her two weeks ago, effective as of 1 July. 

Last week the committee heard his standpoint and yesterday heard the opinion of Šimůnková as well. The committee has met behind closed doors three times on the matter.

Okamura did not want to comment on the course of the discussion in detail. "We took note of the information," he said.

"We agreed within the committee to intensify our communication with this authority, to intensify communication with the Public Defender of Rights and the Deputy Public Defender of Rights. We have taken the first steps toward that," the chair said.

"The committee will be dedicating itself to this," Okamura said. The next session of the committee in August should again debate the activity of the Office of the Public Defender of Rights. 

The chair said he will invite the ombudsman to that meeting. The Deputy Public Defender of Rights should also attend. 

Okamura said the committee has to date discussed the work of the Public Defender of Rights just twice a year, but now the reviews will be quarterly. He pointed out that the authority is functioning, handling the motions it receives, that the law is not being broken, and he alleged that the reasons for these disputes and tensions can be found "at the level of a matter that is personal". 

Křeček and Šimůnková have long held different opinions on various issues. The officials have clashed in the past over the ombudsman's remarks about Romani people, about the presence of fathers in delivery rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic, and over children's rights. 

Šimůnková was elected to office in November 2019 and Křeček was elected in February 2020. Allegedly neither office-holder can be dismissed. 

Each official is serving a six-year term. At the beginning of last year, the ombudsman said that because of their disagreements over the draft Roma inclusion strategy, he was removing the Deputy Public Defender of Rights from three advisory bodies to the Government where she was representing the authority, although he later proved unable to do so

Křeček has been criticized previously and repeatedly for remarks he has made about Roma. The Czech Senate has also called the ombudsman's words about Romani people prejudiced. 

The European Commission has also demanded an explanation from the ombudsman over those remarks. News server reported this week that according to lawyers working for the Office of the Public Defender of Rights, Křeček has interfered with their professional statements. 

According to a former employee, the ombudsman ignored both the Antidiscrimination Act and other applicable law by interfering. That dispute is heading to the courts.

The committee's vote to remain neutral today was a close one. Just six of the 11 MPs present supported the resolution. 

According to ČTK and public broadcaster Czech Television, motions had also been submitted calling on Křeček to return the previously-assigned agenda to Šimůnková. That call did not make it into the final wording. 

There are 16 MPs seated on the Committee on Petitions in the lower house, which is chaired by Czech MP Tomio Okamura. The current governing coalition holds a majority of nine members (the Civic Democratic Party - ODS and the Mayors and Independents - STAN each have three members, the Christian Democrats - KDU-ČSL, two and TOP09, one) while the opposition has seven members (Association of Dissatisfied Citizens - ANO, six and the SPD, one).  

ČTK, ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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