The second day of the high level conference – Reclaiming Human Rights in Europe: How to Enhance Democratic Space? – marking the 25th anniversary of the Croatian ombudsman, started with the discussion on the interrelation of respect for human rights and counter terrorism measures.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks, ODIHR Head of Human Rights Department Omer Fisher, Regional Human Rights and Rule of Law Advisor at UNDP Istanbul Regional Hub Isabelle Tschan, representative of the Defender of Rights from France Claudine Jacob, Senior Expert Adviser of the Croatian Council for National Security Office Sara Lustig were the panellists, as well as the Polish Ombudsman Adam Bodnar via a video message.

Fight against terrorism is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, stressed the Commissioner Muižnieks and added that security must not shoulder out human rights. “By curtailing rights we do the terrorists’ work for them”, concluded Muižnieks.

„There is no need for me to convince you this is one of the most important topics of modern times” said Ombudsman Bodnar in a video message, adding that in public sphere human rights are often confronted against security, which is used by the states in order to adopt measures to restrict rights and freedoms.

The Conference continued with the discussion on freedom of expression and hate speech, with panellists Director of EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) Michael O’Flaherty, Deputy Ombudswoman Tena Šimonović Einwalter, journalist Imane Rachidi, independent expert and former OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović and, via a video message, Vice President of the European Parliament Ulrike Lunacek.

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“The art of critical thinking and accepting criticism is essential for democracy”, noted Lunacek, saying that these skills should be taught in families, schools as well as in trainings for journalist, as well as accepted by politicians. Deputy Ombudswoman Šimonović Einwalter said that „we need to be able to discuss and debate, but also be critical of hate speech, since not dealing with it only causes more discrimination and more hate crime”. Deputy Šimonović Einwalter emphasised the role of judges and their awareness of the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.

FRA Director O’Flaherty stressed that pressure on the media is not a one-state story, it is present accross 28 EU members. Journalist Rachidi, who has on several occasions received serious death threats talked about her experiences. “The hard part of threats is lack of support from politicians” highlighted Rachidi. Dunja Mijatović called for common action in defending freedom of expression and the media emphasising that threats against journalists’ security means threats against the security of their families. “We have to be more vigilant and blunt to stand up for human rights, and safeguarding freedom of expression”, emphasised Mijatović.


GANHRI Chair and Director of German Institute for Human Rights Beate Rudolf, Ombudsman B&H Jasminka Džumhur, member of the Croatian Parliament Veljko Kajtazi and Julija Kranjec from the Centre for Peace Studies spoke on the ways of living together in communities composed of different societal groups.

At the end of the Conference, national human rights institutions, ombuds and equality bodies from almost 30 countries signed Zagreb Declaration, reaffirming their strong commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights and equality, the fight against all forms of discrimination, and to the cooperation with stakeholders on all levels.

The Ombudswoman Lora Vidović closed the Conference by thanking participants for their contribution in discussions during the past two days and for joining the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Ombudsman institution in Croatia.

You can find photos of the Conference here and information on the first day here.