Peter Svetina is Slovenia’s New Human Rights Ombudsman

By , 30 Jan 2019, 11:50 AM Politics
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STA, 29 January 2019 - Peter Svetina, a 53-year-old special education expert and social entrepreneur, was overwhelmingly endorsed as Slovenia's fifth human rights ombudsman in parliament on Tuesday as 89 MPs voted in favour and none against. He succeeds Vlasta Nussdorfer, whose five-year term ends on 23 February.

"I never expected such strong support," Svetina commented on the vote, pledging to perform this important and responsible job to the best of his abilities to serve humaneness.

He would not say what his priority areas would be because "they are all equally important and interconnected, so it's hard to set one of them apart". But he said his priority would be the cases open at the ombudsman's office.

He said the team working at the Human Rights Ombudsman's office numbered many able professionals, while he would also consult members of the civil society.

In endorsing Svetina, deputy factions invariably praised his wealth of experience and professional background that allowed him to learn really well about the needs of vulnerable groups of the population.

Svetina is a social entrepreneur who has been working with persons with special needs for all his professional life both practically and theoretically.

He graduated in special education from the Ljubljana Faculty of Education in 1989, and after graduation worked as a primary school teacher for several years.

He moved to Austria's Klagenfurt in 1995 to work as a teacher in a Slovenian minority association to get acquainted with the issues of the Slovenian community in the province of Carinthia. He was also a member of the local association of teachers.

Svetina returned to Slovenia in 1999 to work in institutions for persons with physical and mental disabilities, also cooperating with their parents, relatives, caretakers and NGOs. In 2007-2008 he was an adviser in the office of the minister of the environment and spatial planning.

Since June 2015, he has been running Grunt, a social entrepreneurship establishment in the countryside, based in Komenda, north-west of Ljubljana. He is also a co-founder of the non-profit, established in 2014.

Since 1999 he has also been mentoring students at various colleges in Ljubljana and Maribor. He has co-authored several handbooks on work with persons with special needs and participated in the drafting of legislation in the field of their employment and work.

When President Borut Pahor opted to nominate Svetina as one of nine candidates, his office said he had "a lot of practical and life experience in working with vulnerable groups and is characterised by compassion to fellow human beings".

"He is firm in his beliefs, but ready to accept arguments which manage to convince him. He is a person of dialogue, but he is relentless when people suffer injustice," the office added.

Pahor said that Svetina was a person with a high degree of integrity and public reputation, and with proper expertise, arguing that he would "perform the post honourably, responsibly, professionally and independently."

Before the vote in parliament, Svetina presented his vision for the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman to the media, saying would be a proactive ombudsman. He said that in his jobs so far, he had always pursued one goal - respect for human beings.

The newly-appointed human rights ombudsman said he had dedicated his entire life and career to working with vulnerable groups, mostly people with mental and physical disabilities.

"I've always made an effort to give people dignity," he said, noting he had tried to enable people to be as independent as possible, including financially.

Svetina said he had constantly stumbled upon violations of human rights of vulnerable groups and their families, fighting small battles against the violations.

He believes he will be able to continue on this path, but he does not think the ombudsman should protect only the rights of vulnerable groups, so he pledged to promote humanity and justice for all.

Svetina mentioned the link between labour rights and poverty, and pointed to environmental issues or children's rights. He stressed though that those who had been waiting to be tackled for a long time should be addressed first.

He also believes the ombudsman needs to speak up against violations, at the same time being open to different proposals and opinions and not shying away from criticism.

Svetina also deems it very important to work closely with the civil society and experts from various fields, so he would like to take the cooperation to a higher level.

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