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Public discussion with the Council of Europe Secretary General Walter Schwimmer: Forthcoming Introduction of the Ombudsman Institution in Bulgaria

The efforts of the civil society in Bulgaria for introducing the ombudsman institution in the country were highly praised by Mr. Walter Schwimmer, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, during a round table discussion on the forthcoming establishment of the ombudsman institution in Bulgaria. The event was organized by Coalition 2000 on October 8, 2003, and took place at the Center for the Study of Democracy as a host organization of the Information Center of the Council of Europe.

Mr. Schwimmer, who was visiting Bulgaria on the occasion of the 25th Conference of the European Ministers of Justice, hosted by the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice in Sofia on October 8-10, 2003, underlined the important role of the ombudsman for the protection and promotion of human rights as well as for promoting good governance practices and consolidating democracy. He made a brief review of the activities of the Council of Europe related to the ombudsman institution and confirmed the commitment of the organization to further support the development of the ombudsman institution in Bulgaria.

In his opening address to the participants the CSD Chairman Dr. Ognian Shentov pointed out the role of the public-private partnership for the development of the newly adopted Law on the Ombudsman. Since the ombudsman is a person driven institution, Dr. Shentov said, the person to be elected as the first Bulgarian ombudsman would be of specific importance for the successful start of the institution.

The Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Plamen Panayotov made a brief overview of the newly adopted Law on the Ombudsman, paying special attention on the specific nature of this institution. He underlined that the ombudsman is not a typical governmental institution because it does not have sanctioning powers and its means of influence are in the sphere of moral authority and persuasion.

The moderator of the discussion Dr. Maria Yordanova, Director of CSD Law Program and Member of the CSD Ombudsman Task Force expressed her gratitude to the people who have supported the process of introducing the ombudsman in Bulgaria and declared the commitment of CSD to further support the development of ombudsman institutions on both national and local level.

Mr. Gene Gibson, Senior Rule of Law and Governance Advisor, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), briefed the participants on the USAID supported activities on introducing ombudsman type institutions on local level in Bulgaria. In the last few years, in many municipalities local mediators and observers have been established based on agreements between the local authorities and NGOs.

The successful experience of the local ombudsman type institutions operating on municipal level lead to the adoption of special provisions regulating the possibility municipal councils to elect local public mediators. The reasons for these amendments were explained by their introducer Ms. Ekaterina Mihailova, Member of Parliament and Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Issues. Referring to the importance of the person to be elected as national ombudsman Ms. Mihailova expressed her belief that the National Assembly will manage to reach a consensus and elect an ombudsman that will have the support of all political forces in Parliament.

Professor Emilia Drumeva, Director of the Legislation and European Law Directorate at the National Assembly, commented on the legislative process in the Parliament and pointed out some of the important provisions of the newly adopted ombudsman legislation.

On behalf of the Union of Bulgarian Jurists Mr. Manio Manev praised the efforts of the civil society and of CSD in particular for establishing the ombudsman institution in Bulgaria. In his opinion, despite some shortcomings the adopted law provides the necessary basis for the successful establishment of the institution. The future activities of the ombudsman, according to him, would give the necessary indications whether and in what direction the legal framework needs to be improved.

The event coincided with the issuance of the fourth consecutive publication of CSD on the ombudsman institution: the handbook The Ombudsman Institution in Europe and Bulgaria. The edition was briefly presented by Dr. Yordanova and was distributed among the participants.

Agenda and speeches
Ombudsman Information Network
Law on the Ombudsman
Law on Local Self-Government and Local Administration (excerpt)
Handbook: The Ombudsman Institution in Europe and Bulgaria

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