What are the key factors that determine ombudsman effectiveness in fragile democracies? Can a human rights ombudsman be effective at all without sanctioning powers in a context of institutional weakness? This dissertation addresses these fundamental questions.
Instead of simply assuming the independence of ombudsman head officers based on the autonomy formally accorded to them in their respective constitutions and laws, this study analyzes and measures the actual behavioral independence demonstrated by the individuals that have served as ombudsman chief officers since the creation of the agency in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.
This dissertation’s most important theoretical contribution to the field of comparative politics and to Latin American politics is that formal institutional arrangements did not explain the significant degrees of variance in effectiveness and in behavioral independence of ombudsman chief officers.
My research shows instead that the ombudsman head officer’s political independence with relation to the government is the key to the perception of ombudsman effectiveness. While ombudsman head officers in Ecuador have relatively higher legal attributions, they were not willing to use such attributions because of fear of informal sanctions, specially the stagnation, reduction or even termination of public funding and/or removal from office.
My findings pointed at the great significance of ombudsman head officers’ political independence in relation to the government and the political forces in Congress. The human rights ombudsman must be perceived as an impartial agency if it is to be effective.
The support of the international donor community is another necessary condition when ombudsman funding is decided by the Executive. The additional funding provided by international agencies allowed ombudsman head officers in Bolvia and Peru to build a relative financial autonomy vis a vis the Executive.
This study also shows that while having enough funding is obviously important, the source of the funding is more important than the total number allocated, because it is the source of the funding what strengthens the chief officer’s independence with relation to the government.