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Ombudsman

The meaning of «ombudsman»

An ombudsman (/ˈɒmbʊdzmən/, also US: /-bədz-, -bʌdz-/,[1][2][3] Swedish: [ˈɔ̂mːbʉːdsˌman]), ombud, ombuds, or public advocate is an official who is usually appointed by the government or by parliament but with a significant degree of independence. In some countries, an inspector general, citizen advocate or other official may have duties similar to those of a national ombudsman and may also be appointed by a legislature. Below the national level, an ombudsman may be appointed by a state, local, or municipal government. Unofficial ombudsmen may be appointed by, or even work for, a corporation such as a utility supplier, newspaper, NGO, or professional regulatory body.

The typical duties of an ombudsman are to investigate complaints and attempt to resolve them, usually through recommendations (binding or not) or mediation. Ombudsmen sometimes also aim to identify systemic issues leading to poor service or breaches of people's rights. At the national level, most ombudsmen have a wide mandate to deal with the entire public sector, and sometimes also elements of the private sector (for example, contracted service providers). In some cases, there is a more restricted mandate, for example with particular sectors of society. More recent developments have included the creation of specialized Children's Ombudsman.

In some jurisdictions an ombudsman charged with handling concerns about national government is more formally referred to as the "Parliamentary Commissioner" (e.g. the United Kingdom Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and the Western Australian state Ombudsman). In many countries where the ombudsman's responsibility includes protecting human rights, the ombudsman is recognized as the national human rights institution. The post of ombudsman had by the end of the 20th century been instituted by most governments and by some intergovernmental organizations such as the European Union.

A prototype of an ombudsman may have flourished in China during the Qin Dynasty (221 BC), and in Korea during the Joseon Dynasty.[4] The position of secret royal inspector, or amhaeng-eosa (암행어사, 暗行御史) was unique to the Joseon Dynasty, where an undercover official directly appointed by the king was sent to local provinces to monitor government officials and look after the populace while travelling incognito. The Roman Tribune had some similar roles, with power to veto acts that infringed upon the Plebeians. Another precursor to the ombudsman was the Diwān al-Maẓālim (دِيوَانُ الْمَظَالِمِ) which appears to go back to the second caliph, Umar (634–644), and the concept of Qaḍī al-Quḍāt (قَاضِي الْقُضَاةِ).[5] They were also attested in Siam, India, the Liao dynasty (Khitan Empire), Japan, and China.[6]

An indigenous Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish term, ombudsmand is etymologically rooted in the Old Norse word umboðsmaðr, essentially meaning “representative” (with the word umbud/ombud meaning “proxy”, “attorney”, that is someone who is authorized to act for someone else, a meaning it still has in the Scandinavian languages). In the Danish Law of Jutland from 1241, the term is umbozman and concretely means a royal civil servant in a hundred. From 1552, it is also used in the other Nordic languages such as the both Icelandic and Faroese umboðsmaður, the Norwegian ombudsmann/ombodsmann, and the Swedish ombudsman. The general meaning was and is approximately “a man representing (someone)” (i.e., a representative) or “a man with a commission (from someone)” (a commissioner). The Swedish-speaking minority in Finland uses the Swedish terminology. The various forms of the suffix -mand, -maður, et cetera, are just the forms the common Germanic word represented by the English word man have in the various languages. Thus, the modern plural form ombudsmen of the English borrowed word ombudsman is etymologically reasonable; but so was Emily O’Reilly’s mild protest when she first was elected as the Ombudsman of Ireland:

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