How can the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces help to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Armed Forces Personnel”

The powers and function of the Ombudsman of the Defence Forces

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The powers and function of the Ombudsman of the Defence Forces.
The legislation which established my Office provides that the Ombudsman will be independent of both the Minister for Defence and the Defence Forces. Independence is perhaps the single most important factor determining the effectiveness or otherwise of an Ombudsman’s Office. Independence allows members of the Defence Forces, who come forward with complaints, to have confidence that the Ombudsman is distinct from the military hierarchy. It also provides the civilian authorities with confidence that effective oversight is being exercised over the Armed Forces. An effective Military Ombudsman must be independent from both the state and the armed forces. The Office holder must be neither the “government person” in the military nor the “military’s person” in the government. The independence of my Office allows me to weigh the evidence presented and examine the facts of an individual complaint without fear or favour.
Access to my Office is open for members of the Defence Forces who believe that they have been treated unfairly or suffered discrimination or some form of unjust behaviour. In many ways my Office was intended to supplement, rather than replace, the existing internal complaints structure. The 1954, Defence Act states that every member of the Defence Forces has a legal right to make a Complaint. While there is a commitment to try to resolve the matter locally at Unit level, there is a right, on the part of the Complainant, if he or she is not satisfied with the determination, to have the matter referred to a higher authority, moving upwards ultimately to the Chief of Staff, who is the operational head of the Defence Forces. If the member is not satisfied with the way the complaint has been handled or the outcome, s/he has a right to refer the case by way of appeal to me.
In addition to this, if after 28 days, there has been no resolution to the matter the complainant may approach my Office directly. The Office of the Ombudsman exists as a safety-net where the usual channels have not provided satisfaction. One additional feature of an Ombudsman Institution for Armed Forces personnel is that it provides a civilian oversight function providing a democratic corrective in requiring accountability for administrative and human resource management practices from the military. However, in the last number of years, there has been particular attention paid to the other aspect of the Ombudsman’s role in protecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the armed forces personnel.
Through the work of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR), in conjunction with the Geneva based Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), a Handbook was published, in 2008, setting out the arrangements in a number of States for protecting members’ rights. This Handbook has been published in a number of languages and is currently under review for up-dating which is a very positive sign about the influence and benefits of such a work. May I refer you to the website of DCAF.
If an Ombudsman is to be effective, the Office must be sufficiently empowered, resourced and supported. The legislation which established my Office grants me extensive powers of investigation with access to all documents and military installations relevant to the case under my review. However, the Act also limits my powers quite reasonably in certain areas. I am prohibited from investigating matters involving security or military operations. Similarly, the organisation, structure and deployment of the Defence Forces are beyond my remit because, of course, operational matters are for the command of the Defence Forces and policy is for the Government.

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