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Czech President nominates current Human Rights Commissioner as candidate for ombudswoman, opposition not enthusiastic

17.12.2019 7:00
Helena Válková (PHOTO: ANO party archive)
Helena Válková (PHOTO: ANO party archive)

Czech President Miloš Zeman has proposed that former Justice Minister and current Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Helena Válková (Association of Dissatisfied Citizens - ANO) be a candidate for the position of the Public Defender of Rights (the ombudswoman). Zeman announced the proposal in a letter to MPs that was published by his spokesperson, Jiří Ovčáček.

In the letter, Zeman said he had planned to propose two candidates for the post, but one had refused to be put forward, and due to the timing of the refusal, he did not have enough time to find another suitable candidate to propose. The current Public Defender of Rights , Anna Šabatová, completes her six-year term in February 2020.

By law the Chamber of Deputies chooses the Public Defender of Rights from a set of candidates proposed by the President and the Senate. The head of state and the upper chamber are able to submit two candidates each, and the law allows them to propose the same candidate.

The function of the ombudswoman is incompatible with the function of an MP, an office Válková currently also holds. Zeman said Válková is a known, respected figure.

"I am convinced that her professional work to date, with its positive, specific results, as well as her many years of legal experience, make her eminently qualified to provide protection to individuals against public institutions that either behave unfairly or fail to do their jobs, as the law requires of this function," the President said. Válková became Human Rights Commissioner this May.

In response to her appointment, Daniel Kroupa, a college teacher and philosopher, resigned from his post as a volunteer member of the Czech Government Human Rights Council because of Válková's membership in the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia prior to 1989. At the beginning of the 1990s, Válková was engaged with Civic Forum; since January 2015 she has been a member of the ANO movement, and since October 2013 she has been an MP for them.

From January 2014 through March 2015, Válková also served as Justice Minister in the cabinet of Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD). In November the lower house selected a new Deputy Ombudswoman after two failed attempts to do so earlier in the year, Monika Šimůnková, who served as Human Rights Commissioner during the administration of Prime Minister Petr Nečas (Civic Democratic Party - ODS).

Opposition does not welcome Zeman's nominee

The chairs of the opposition parties do not much identify with Zeman's proposed candidate. The chair of TOP 09, Markéta Pekarová Adamová, and the head of the Pirates, Ivan Bartoš, have referenced her membership in the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, while the chair of the ODS, Petr Fiala, has called the nomination a political reward for "services rendered".

The chair of the Christian Democrats, Marek Výborný (KDU-ČSL), called Válková a relevant candidate but said he believes the fact that she is a political figure is a handicap. Critics have pointed out that in her role as a legislator in the lower house, Válková rejected the Senate's Constitutional complaint against Zeman as an attempt to unseat him and have criticized her for saying that "not so much happened [in Czechoslovakia] during the [Nazi] Protectorate [of Bohemia and Moravia]", a remark for which she later apologized.

"I believe there exists a more appropriate candidate than Mrs. Válková, whose reputation is tarnished by her previous membership in the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, by the high flexibility of her argumentation when it becomes necessary to excuse the Prime Minister's problems, and by her making odd remarks about the future outcomes of the proceedings of the independent courts. It will be appropriate to wait to assess the qualities of the candidates until the nomination from the Senate arrives," wrote the chair of the Pirate Party.

The Senate has since proposed Vít Alexander Schorm, who represents the Czech Government before the European Court of Human Rights, and the attorney Jan Matys. The KDU-ČSL also said it would wait to decide whom to support until the Senate's proposals were certain.

"We perceive Válková to be one of the relevant candidates. Certainly a possible handicap is the fact that she is a political figure," Výborný said.

"This is payment for services rendered by Válková, the kind of appointment that ANO so vehemently declaimed against ahead of the elections. Andrej Babiš (ANO) has already privatized for himself his own faithful half of the republic, now he wants the Office of the Ombudsman too," noted the chair of the ODS.

"While the current ombudswoman was imprisoned by the previous regime, Mrs. Válková was a member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. I do not believe, moreover, that the Public Defender of Rights should be somebody who believes she can predict the outcome of a criminal prosecution," the TOP 09 chair tweeted.

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Ombudsman, Poslanecká sněmovna, prezident, Senát



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