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    • The third international conference of armed forces ombudsman was held in Belgrade

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    • Date: 15 April 2011
      From April 13 to 15, 2011 Belgrade hosted the third international conference of armed forces ombudsman. Conference proceedings were opened by Boris Tadic, President of Serbia, Dragan Sutanovac, Minister of Defence; Ambassador Theodor Winkler; Director of the Geneva Centre for Security, Development and the Rule of Law (DCAF) and Sasa Jankovic, the Ombudsman of the Republic of Serbia.

      Also present were MPs, military attachés, representatives of the media and civil society organisations. Three panel discussions were centred on external and internal procedures for dealing with complaints, the status of military trade unions, and the role of ombudsman institutions in the protection of armed forces in multinational peace support operations.

      Both the opening statement by the President and Minister of Defence, reforms that were carried out by the institutions of the Republic of Serbia in the defence sector were emphasized, stressing particularly the fact that the armed forces are no longer an obstacle to, but the building element of a democratic society. The fact that complaints being filed by members of the armed forces are mostly similar to those of other citizens proves how problems they face are not different. There are three key changes which have contributed to armed forces’ rapprochement to Serbian society: structure of the armed forces and Ministry of Defence has changed and these institutions have been thoroughly reorganized; the abolition of military justice; and the professionalization of the armed forces.

      Participants in the first panel discussed the advantages and disadvantages of internal and external oversight bodies and mechanisms. All speakers agreed on the strengths and weaknesses of both types of supervisory bodies, but they concluded how, in any event, systems of external and internal oversight must be harmonized.

      The aim of the second discussion was to consider how states can guarantee the protection of fundamental rights of armed forces personnel, taking into account the specific demands of military service. Focus was on the nature of organizing military unions, limitations to their activities and the nature of relationship between military unions and the institution of ombudsman.

      Third panel was concerned with protection of the rights of armed forces personnel in multinational peace support operations. Not only soldiers' lack of knowledge of national law, but the different legal systems which they are subjected to may lead to difficulties. Members of the armed forces abroad can contact “their” ombudsman and their rights are the same regardless of where they may be. Miroslav Hadzic opened discussion on the responsibility ombudsman may have to the local population in peacekeeping operations. Participants in the discussion agreed that the ombudsman has the right and responsibility to protect civilians, but that the problem is lack of information available to civilians about whom they should and can turn to.

      Most important result of the conference is the adoption of a Memorandum on the protection of human rights of members of the armed forces.

      The next conference will take place in Ottawa, Canada in 2012.

      Related topics:ombudsman, Serbia, international
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