“Independent, impartial and outreaching”; with these three terms Reinier van Zutphen, National Ombudsman of the Netherlands defined the central task of an ombudsman institute. He did so during a press conference at the office of the Polish ombudsman Mr Adam Bodnar. Mr Van Zutphen is also board member of the European Chapter of the de International Ombudsman Institute (IOI). The Dutch National Ombudsman visited his colleague for a two day meeting sharing best practices and experiences.
Mr Van Zutphen explained that it is of great importance that an ombudsman institution always acts independent of the government or any other public body. No one can tell him or her what to do. The same goes for the way the institution operates. That should be always completely impartial. There is no obligation to neither citizens nor the government. However, his mandate tells him to act where citizens and government have a problem. And as the government is there for the people, the citizens perspective is central in all the activities of the Dutch institution. Finally there is the outreach. Every ombudsman has the implicit obligation to actively seek the contact with all citizens in all layers of society. Especially where citizens with a lower education are concerned or elderly or otherwise vulnerable persons in a complex society, the ombudsman has to work hard to get into contact with them.
The Polish ombudsman is facing many challenges and is fighting to uphold the Rule of Law in his country. With his visit, Mr Van Zutphen wanted to underscore that an ombudsman institution, or a commissioner for human rights, is of fundamental importance for a European country where there should be a proper balance between democracy, the protection of human rights and the rule of law. The rule of law was extensively discussed during the conference "Protecting European Union Values: breaches of Article 2 TEU and their consequences" which was hosted by the University of Warsaw and the Max Planck Institute. Among the speakers was professor Joseph Weiler and professor Monica Claes.
Mr. Van Zutphen was very impressed by the way Dr. Bodnar stands up for the rights of the Polish citizens. Although the political situation is a this very moment difficult Mr. Bodnar is keeping up the standards of human rights and protection Ombudsman values in an admirable way.
Mr Van Zutphen also contributed to the initiative set up by a group of lawyers, Wolne sądy (free courts), who want to inform the public about the need for free and independent courts. In order for everybody in Poland to understand the importance of having free courts, they provide very short, simple videos of experts on this topic. You can see here the contribution of Mr Van Zutphen.
During his visit Mr Reinier van Zutphen also met with members of the Polish senate and also with the judges who are on the Polish judicial council. At the end of the first day there was an open discussion with the public on the populism and human right at the Polish ombudsman office.