Carmen Comas-Mata, director of the advisory board of the Ombudsman's Office, talks to us about the importance of cooperation.Carmen Comas-Mata with Antonio Mora, former coordinator of projects in Kazakhstan and Armenia
In my extensive experience in charge of international relations at the Ombudsman’s Office, which is also the national institution concerned with human rights under terms of the United Nations Organisation, I have been able to see the importance of cooperating in human rights first-hand, not just to merely ensure that the beneficiary countries achieve certain minimum standards of respect and protection for these rights but also to enhance the prestige of Spain abroad.
People talk of “Brand Spain” to showcase to the world the successes achieved by our athletes and companies. But we shouldn’t leave it there: over the past 40 years, Spain has been an example of respect for human rights, and we can show the world how we had an exemplary transition from a dictatorship to a democracy, where we accepted a constitution that establishes the citizen as a subject of rights and established effective mechanisms for their protection. One of the main players in this transition was an extra-judicial institution, the Ombudsman’s Office, which is responsible for ensuring that public administrations respect these rights. Moreover, it is one of the institutions of this type with the most power in the world.
Therefore, I feel especially proud of having been able to help enhance the image and prestige of my country by working in cooperation with human rights in countries of the former Soviet Union, like Kazakhstan and Armenia, and in other ones closer to us, like the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and, most recently Turkey. Through EU Twinning projects, with the invaluable help of FIIAPP, we have helped to start or have strengthened other ombudsman institutions. The importance of sister institutions collaborating wholeheartedly in the same direction, improving action procedures, learning from one another, and thus being able to better serve citizens, the only reason for our existence, is something I understand to be unimpeachable and very positive.
One of our priority objectives is, of course, Ibero-America. The expansive force of human rights has made everyone see the need to intensify collaboration with the ombudsmen in other countries, especially those in Ibero-America by holding meetings within a new organisation that took the name Ibero-American Federation of Ombudsmen (FIO). Its purpose was, and is, to lay the groundwork for fruitful international cooperation, particularly in countries that share a common culture and past. That cooperation is expressed and made concrete through the implementation of practical and effective programmes for training specialised personnel and promoting the establishment and solidity of the ombudsmen in all of the nations in the Ibero-American community.
There is work being done in areas as important as immigration, human trafficking, youth, women and prisons. Precisely this field, that of cooperation in prison matters, and ultimately, the care of Spanish prisoners abroad, is one that can benefit most from Spanish cooperation. It is necessary to make our sister countries in America see that ensuring that sentences are served under humane conditions is as important as fighting crime. This is one of the most important duties we have today.
We also work with countries in the Mediterranean region. The Arab Spring represented a threat to the incipient ombudsman institutions that were being created, but in some countries it is also turning out to be an opportunity to better adapt to international standards. Cooperation with these countries takes place through the Association of Mediterranean Ombudsmen, the purpose of which has always been to give strength and consistency to the ombudsman institutions of the Mediterranean basin, as a secure channel for affirming democracy in the area, as well as to initiate action consisting of international collaboration to cooperate within the framework of the good neighbour policy.
The ombudsman is the friendly voice that listens to us, informs us and, if possible, helps us to improve our lives and solve our problems; and, above all, it is the last hope of dozens of people whom public authorities — culpably, intentionally or accidentally — have passed over them like bulldozers.
Let’s not forget that we are all citizens, whether Spaniards or foreigners, and therefore strengthening our institutions here and there with cooperation projects means strengthening our system of freedoms.