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New Czech ombud is Anna Šabatová

Prague, 14.2.2014 17:49, (ROMEA)
Anna Šabatová (PHOTO: archive)
Anna Šabatová (PHOTO: archive)

Anna Šabatová, who has just been elected Public Defender of Rights (ombud), will be wanting politicians to increase the ombud's powers. "I would be glad if the ombud would be able to file motions for the abolition of laws with the Constitutional Court. I would also be glad if the ombud could file its own lawsuits in matters of discrimination," Šabatová said.  

News server brings you the following interview with the new ombud from the Czech News Agency:

Q:  In your view, does the Public Defender of Rights have sufficient powers in the Czech Republic, or will you try to call on legislators to give you more powers?

A:  I would like to expand the options available for certain competencies, but they essentially provide a good opportunity to defend people's rights.

Q:  Could you be more specific about which powers the ombud should receive?

A:  I would be glad if the ombud would be able to file motions for the abolition of laws with the Constitutional Court. I would also be glad if the ombud could file its own lawsuits in matters of discrimination.

Q:  What will collaboration with Deputy Ombud Stanislav Křeček look like now? You both ran for the post of Public Defender of Rights, will that influence your work?

A:  Definitely not from my side. I know the architecture of the building and the offices of the Ombud and Deputy Ombud are right next door to one another, so your question is almost funny. Naturally we will see each other daily.

Q:  During the first round of voting, 50 invalid votes were cast. Couldn't that have been clarified earlier?

A:  It could have, but it wasn't.

Q:  What do you intend to focus on when you take office?

A:  I will want to review what [previous ombuds] Mr Varvařovský and perhaps even what Mr Motejl did. I want to focus on that out of respect for the work they have done. At the ombud the complaints received are greatly dependent on the times and they must respond to what citizens are coming there for.

Q:  What will be the first thing you do after taking up your post?

A:  I can take up the post after taking the oath of office. It's not appropriate to go to [the office in] Brno until then, but right after I take the oath I will go to Brno.

[Czech MP Jan Hamáček, speaker of the lower house, has clarified that Šabatová will take the oath of office on Tuesday, 18 February - Editors]

Q:  And once you're in Brno?

A:  I will convene the staff to welcome them, and then I will spend the first weeks learning how the office has progressed since I was last there, i.e., during the past seven years. There's an old saying that you can never step into the same river twice, even if it might seem like you are.

Q:  President Miloš Zeman recently reminded you of the so-called "Kuřim scandal" in which 32-year-old Barbora Škrlová was posing as a non-existent 13-year-old named "Anička" and you fell for it. Was that just him lobbying for Mr Křeček, whom he proposed as the candidate for ombud, or do you see some sort of dislike of you in the fact that he brought that up?

A:  I don't know, ask the president. I don't want to speculate. The mission of the ombud, or at least its mission at the end of the year 2000, when former Justice Minister Otakar Motejl was elected for his first six-year term, is to protect citizens from the inaction or the poor decisions of the state administration. If the ombud determines that a specific state body has made an error, then the ombud has the power to call for that error to be corrected. If that doesn't happen, then the law makes it possible for the ombud to publicize the case - that is the highest sanction now available.  

CV of Anna Šabatová:

Date and place of birth: 23 June 1951 in Brno, Czechoslovakia

Education: Graduate of the Faculty of Philosophy, Charles University in Prague (FF UK). In 2008 she defended her doctoral dissertation in the Department of Legal Theory at the Faculty of Law, Masaryk University.

Current position: Fellow at the Department of Social Work, FF UK.   

Career:  Prior to November 1989 Šabatová worked as a clerk. Later she became an adviser to the Labor and Social Affairs Minister, an editor, and Deputy Director of the Municipal Center for Social Services and Prevention in Prague (1998-2001). In 2001 she worked for six years as Deputy Ombud for Otakar Motejl. From 2008 until March 2013 she headed the Czech Helsinki Committee.

Political activity:  Politically independent. Prior to November 1989 she was engaged in the dissident movement and was one of the first to sign Charter 77, becoming its spokesperson in 1986. From 1978 until 1990 she was a member of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted (VONS) as its co-founder and contributed to publishing the periodical "Information about Charter 77". 

Life story:

Anna Šabatová is the daughter of political scientist Jaroslav Šabata and the wife of the journalist and politician Petr Uhl, with whom she has three children. She was persecuted for dissident activity by the communist regime, imprisoned from 1971 - 1973 and expelled from college (in 1969 she had been studying history and philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy, Jan Evangelista Purkyně University, Brno). 

Šabatová has been engaged in the field of human rights protection her entire life and has been interested in social policy in the broadest possible sense. She is the recipient of many honors, such as the Medal for Service (2002), the United Nations Prize for Defending Human Rights (1998) and the Alice Garrigue Masaryk Prize (2010).

As Deputy Ombud she faced criticism over the so-called Kuřim scandal. The case involved allegations of child abuse. Critics said Šabatová should have contacted social workers after learning of the case of Anička, who was allegedly a 13-year-old girl without an identity; later it turned out that 32-year-old Barbora Škrlová was posing as the child. Šabatová rejected the criticism, saying she had proceeded in the matter according to the best knowledge available to her. Ombud Otakar Motejl expressed support for her at the time. Czech President Miloš Zeman mentioned her role in the case once again recently.  

Šabatová ran unsuccessfully for the post of ombud twice before, once in 2000 and once in 2010.  

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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