11.09.14 // Institutional Strengthening, Institutional Strengthening, News

Series of documents launched: ‘Ombudsmen of Latin America’

Coordinated by ACIJ, the TPA Initiative has recently released the series ‘Ombudsmen in Latin America’, wich includes three case studies of the Peruvian Ombudsman (developed by Proética), the Argentinean Ombudsman (developed by ACIJ) and the Uruguayan National Institution of Human Rights (developed by CAInfo). The reports present a characterization of the different ombudsmen, a study of their practices, in the fields of transparency, accountability and openness towards citizenship, and end up putting forward some recommendations for these institutions to enhance increased interaction with the public.

In Latin American countries, in spite of the important institutional role assigned to Ombudsman offices (as bodies which demand governmental accountability and defend human rights), they continue to play a menial role in the public arena, and often fail to connect with the public. Based on the TPA Initiative´s experience of collaborative work with Supreme Audit Institutions, we have acknowledged that standards and principles on transparency, participation and accountability can be useful to other audit institutions displaying similar institutional features and facing analogous challenges. Along 2013 and 2014, we embarked on the study of Ombudsmen in various countries in the region, to develop a diagnostic analysis and put forward recommendations to strengthen these institutions’s capacities and citizen engagement mechanisms towards improving current accountability systems.

Ombudsmen have been a great social achievement for Latin American countries, after the democratization process faced along the 80’s.  However, these young democracies are often characterized with high levels of social inequality and violations of social, economic and cultural rights, which are constitutionally enshrined.

In response to this issue, many Ombudsmen have expanded their social role to include the consideration of collective rights, such as those rights of consumers’, children, women, the elderly, indigenous communities or marginalized groups. This comprehensive mission entails a great potential for these institutions to achieve significant impact in social inclusion issues.

Putting aside the growing importance of Ombudsmen’s offices, the understanding of their functions and fundamental role in promoting accountability and good governance remains limited. Although they have significant strengths (such as a wide mandate and a less legalistic approach), these offices are also characterized by inherent weaknesses, including their susceptibility to political pressure, limited capacity and finances, and the limited coordination with other accountability institutions.

In view of effectively accomplishing their mission, Ombudsmen can develop alternative cooperative strategies with social agents. The public generally perceive these institutions as one of the few accessible state agencies, which are ready and open to receive their complaints and concerns. The Ombudsman plays a pivotal role narrowing the existing gap between horizontal and social accountability mechanisms.

In this sense, the series Ombudsmen in Latin America presents an overview of the roles performed by the Ombudsmen of Peru, Argentina and Uruguay. The reports approach the trajectories of these institutions since they were created, allowing for a structural and functional analysis, which also takes into account mechanisms of transparency and interaction with other stakeholders. At the same time, the focus is placed on new technologies, which provide a framework for network building and communication between audit organizations and civil society.

In order to collect the information, a series of interviews with state officials were carried out. In addition, official documents along with regulatory legislation and press material were considered. Interviews and reports from various sources, official websites, and the opinions of academics and specialist lawyers in the area were all checked out to enrich the findings and conclusions of these studies.

The reports are presented here: