The Ombudsman as protector of citizens’ human rights

Publiceret 14-06-2023

‘It is practically the nature of the case that protection of human rights is an important part of the Ombudsman’s task.’ The Parliamentary Ombudsman, Niels Fenger, says so in a new article in the Danish Weekly Law Reports (Ugeskrift for Retsvæsen) on the Ombudsman’s role as protector of human rights.

In the article, he analyses the overlap of human rights with the Ombudsman’s tasks. He explains that the Ombudsman institution was not created with a view to promoting and protecting human rights. However, concurrently with the rules on human rights gaining in importance for the public administration’s activities, the number of cases where it is relevant to include human rights have increased in the Ombudsman institution.

In recent years, the Ombudsman has involved the European Court of Human Rights in cases regarding, among other things, freedom of speech and information for people in prisons, in psychiatric institutions and in educational institutions. The same applies to cases regarding the obligation to reside within a departure centre and the duty to report regularly to the police for foreign nationals with tolerated residence status, and cases regarding underage children in social care, postal control in institutions and the rights to family life in asylum centres and the like.

More human rights tasks

In addition, Niels Fenger describes how the Ombudsman over recent decades has been given more and more tasks in relation to international human rights instruments. Accordingly, the Ombudsman must, among other things, contribute to ensuring the rights of children pursuant to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, monitor the equal treatment of persons with disabilities in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, monitor pursuant to the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) and monitor the behaviour of the police during forced deportation of foreign nationals.

Lastly, the considerations entering into the Ombudsman’s assessment of, among others, cases regarding conditions in prisons, in psychiatric institutions and in institutions for children are to a considerable extent convergent with the values and thinking behind many international human rights instruments. 

According to the Ombudsman, this development has collectively helped to support his work of highlighting the rights of citizens and promoting an administrative culture built on a general rule of law and the respect for human rights.    

Or as Niels Fenger himself remarks: ‘Luckily, the Ombudsman is well placed for identifying situations where administrative practice may raise due process problems.’

Read the article here (in Danish only).

Further details:

Director of International Relations, Klavs Kinnerup Hede,