International Human Rights Day: It is important to fight for rights, including the rights of others!

On December 10th the world is celebrating the Human Rights Day and this year also the 70th anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document represents a civilizational step forward, when numerous countries within the UN decided to prevent the repetition of atrocities that happened during the World War II, that demonstrated what is one human being capable of doing to other human being.

According to the Universal Declaration, the human rights are the basis of freedom and justice in the world as well as the path to freedom of fear and freedom of poverty.

Poverty represents a great enemy of human rights and a partner of discrimination, and often means living in extremely inadequate conditions and social isolation which might cause negative consequences on health, education or access to labour market and lead to homelessness. Recent data shows that 20 percent of citizens in Croatia are at the risk of poverty, and the number is even higher among the older persons, namely 28 percent.

Also, more than 7 percent of citizens cannot afford adequate heating in these, the coldest months. Unfortunately, the proposal of the Ombudswoman Lora Vidović to reduce VAT on firewood, heating energy and gas as it was done for electricity, was not accepted, with an argument that it would have a negative impact on the state budget. Such decision is not encouraging since the attitude of a state towards human rights is reflected, among other, in distribution of the resources to those most disadvantaged. Croatia declared itself as a social welfare state by the Constitution and by the 1991 ratification of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights committed itself to protection of the rights to just and favourable working conditions, rights to social security and the highest standards of physical and mental health. However, although it should have done in 2006, Croatia still did not submit to the UN CESCR its second periodic report on implementation of the Covenant's obligations.

Along with the data on economic growth, the data on poverty is also on a rise, thus opening the space for an additional strengthening of the citizens' social security. For example, it is necessary to increase the amount of the social subsidies and access to the social services in all parts of the country. Great responsibility lies on cities and municipalities which do not always obey legal obligations, for example, some of them do not subsidize the housing costs.

It is also worrying that the citizens do not always know their rights and whom to turn to; but even when informed, they often choose not to pursue their rights out of fear from revenge or, simply deeming that it would bring no good. However, a society is as stronger as strong are its most vulnerable members. It is the Universal Declaration which encourages us not only to seek protection for our own human rights but also to stand up for the rights of others even when we might not understand each other or do not agree. Since, when human rights are denied to one person they are denied to all of us.

The Ombudswoman is marking the International Human Rights Day in Rijeka, Osijek and Split, with discussions on ways of strengthening protection of workers, persons deprived of liberty and the system of free legal aid. Those themes will be included in the Ombudswoman's 2018 Annual Report, due to be submitted to the Croatian parliament by the end of March 2019.