"The establishment of an Ombudsman Office in Liechtenstein would strengthen the protection against all forms of discrimination," stated the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, after his visit to the country on 23-24 February. "The present mechanisms to receive and act upon complaints from the public are not fully independent or lack sufficient resources".
The Commissioner was informed about the ongoing discussion on a reform to broaden the coverage of the existing national human rights protection structures. He recommended the institution of an ombudsman office with a broad mandate which would address the rights of children, women, persons with disabilities, and the elderly, as well as refugees and other foreigners. The Commissioner also recommended the introduction of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.
A part-time Ombudsman for Children and Young People has already been in place for two years. Pending the reform of the overall human rights system, this office should be properly resourced so as to be able to fulfill its important functions for children's rights protection.
Violence against women remains a problem in the Liechtenstein society. The Commissioner recommends prompt ratification and implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. Particular attention needs to be devoted to the situation of migrant women who may hesitate to report about abuses because of fear of losing their residence status.
Persons with disabilities lack sufficient employment possibilities, in spite of several constructive measures, such as subsidies for making adjustments to the workplace to improve accessibility and for paying a part of the salary of disabled employees. Further measures should be explored to promote integration of people with disabilities into the job market in both the public and private sector. A prompt ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would demonstrate that the Liechtenstein authorities are determined to do their utmost to protect the human rights of persons with disabilities.
Liechtenstein has a well-developed system of assisting elderly people in care institutions as well as in their homes. A concern expressed to the Commissioner related to the growing number of persons who would prefer to continue their working life after having reached the retirement age – a situation calling for more flexibility in employment regulations. The Commissioner recalls that the revised European Social Charter contains provisions for the protection of the rights of the elderly and recommends ratification of this important international instrument.
Following Liechtenstein's accession to EU regulations on asylum, including the Dublin II Regulation, the number of asylum applications to be assessed on their merits will be reduced to a minimum. However, it must be borne in mind that the possibility to send back asylum seekers to the country of first entry within the EU or Schengen area cannot be automatic as there is a need to ensure that no one will be returned to a country where they may be at risk of persecution or torture. In addition, having regard to the declining numbers of asylum cases, the Commissioner calls upon the authorities to consider accepting more refugees who are recognised by UNHCR as having protection needs.
The authorities in Liechtenstein have taken steps to facilitate the integration of immigrants. However, the Commissioner considers that the requirements for obtaining citizenship are excessively restrictive and recommends a review of these in line with the principles of the European Convention on Nationality. Further steps are also recommended to make the process of applying for family reunification less cumbersome.