Boško Šiljegović, the First Parliamentary Military Commissioner of BiH

Bosnia and Herzegovina has an institution of Parliamentary Military Commissioner of BiH since July 2009, and this institution means a parliamentary civil monitoring in area of human rights protection in Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. First official on this duty is Boško Šiljegović, former chairman of the Joint Committee for Defense and Security of BiH.

What does the position of parliamentary military commissioner mean?

The institution of Military Commissioner of Bosnia and Herzegovina means parliamentary civil monitoring in area of human rights protection in Armed Forces, that is soldiers and cadets. It is a person that prevents violation of law and protects human rights of members of Armed Forces of BiH and cadets.

Our model is perhaps most similar to German model, but Germany has this institution since 1959. When Germans were creating their Armed Forces, they were especially careful, so they established this institution of Military Commissioner. They have made this perfect, but Germany has 250,000 soldiers, and has the Office of Military Commissioner that is an institution for itself, embedded in German constitution. Austria, Canada and some other countries have something similar to this. Parliament of BiH had these models in sight when they decided to organize the area of human rights protection this way. Allow me to compliment the Parliament of BiH and people that initialized this – we are the only country in the region that organized protection of right of soldiers and representatives of Armed Forces this way.

Since when are you serving the duty of Military Commissioner?

The law of Parliamentary Military Commissioner was brought on July 7th 2009. As the first Parliamentary Military Commissioner i swore an oath on September 16th 2009, and then a period came when i was obliged to propose bylaws that follow the implementation of the Law on Parliamentary Military Commissioner. From the oath to second half of January 2010, all bylaws that follow the implementation of the Law on Parliamentary Military Commissioner were adopted, and from second half of January 2010 the Office of Parliamentary Military Commissioner works in full legal capacity. First mandate is three years, with a possibility of re-election on five years.

Why is the position of Parliamentary Military Commissioner needed, when there is Parliamentary Commission for Defense and Security?

Parliamentary Commission for Defense and Security has a wide specter of jurisdictions. I was the head of that Commission in the last mandate. It is in charge for parliamentary monitoring in defense and security area – where the State Information and Protection Agency (SIPA), the Border Police and Interpol belong, and it has jurisdiction over BiH Mine Action Center (BHMAC), but does not deal with protection of human rights specifically. This is expanded jurisdiction of the Parliament, that is exclusively specialized in protection of human rights of members of Armed Forces. I will emphasize here that this does not apply on civilians. We have around 1,000 civilians and around 10,000 professional soldiers. Civilians have the possibility of syndicate organizing, and by law, professional soldiers in our Armed Forces do not have the right of syndicate organizing, do not have the right to political organizing, and do not have the right to strike. All other right are guaranteed. Civilians, however, have the institution of Ombudsman in BiH, that works here for a longer period of time, and has Offices in Banja Luka, Sarajevo, and Mostar.

By the model taken from developed countries, it is a specialized monitoring, parliamentary or civic, in human rights domain. In some countries there is, like in BiH, the General Inspectorate, belonging to Armed Forces. General Inspectorate deals with protection of human rights. However, people in General Inspectorate are members of Armed Forces, therefore military personnel. They report to Minister of Defense. Because of that, we have a situation where not many inspectors dare to start an investigation or an action about violation of human rights area against his Commander, Mayor, General, etc. For my work, i report exclusively to the Parliament, and in some cases to Presidency of BiH and Joint Commission for Defense and Security. I get assignments from the Parliament, from Joint Commission for Defense and Security. I am held responsible on basis of individual and personal complaint (so there is no possibility of anonymous or group complaint) and on the basis of my own initiative and estimate.

Do you expect problems with soldiers that will not receive a severance pay upon the announced expiration of their contracts?

In 2006 we had a specific situation where we created professional Armed Forces. At that time there was a large number of members of entities Armies and a certain exception in law was created, that allowed a possibility of early retirement. There are some initiatives to create similar situation now too. I do not think there will be a rebellion, because we are talking about very serious and responsible people, who were until now on such important positions in building of the state that I do not believe any rebellion would come from them. I allow and i want them to achieve every struggle inside institutions of the system – therefore, they have a right to fight.

Maybe it is necessary here to emphasize that Ministry of Defense, Joint Headquarters and Transition Team are working very actively and, as I am informed, almost 1,000 persons will be taken care of in various ways and remain employed, regardless of age limit of 35 that is specified by law. Anyway, this limit has been raised twice. Former Minister Nikola Radovanović extended the limit by two or three years, and after him Minister Selmo Cikotić too. But then again, those are some political decisions. So, 1,000 persons will be taken care of. Ones are transferred from category of soldier to category of non-commissioned officers, and therefore are not limited to age of 35, others will be transferred to civic occupations, etc. What is necessary to emphasize is that law must be respected until it is changed. The process of rejuvenation is unstoppable and nobody can say that after us, someone younger will not come.

What I insist on, through my activities in barracks, is that this process must be righteous. If we transfer somebody from solider category to non-commissioned officer category, that man must be the best in his group. He has to have the best knowledge, best grades, be healthy, not have material, discipline, or some other accountability, has to have the most courses attended… That process also must be transparent. This means that when it is published on every bulletin board who is transferred from a soldier or corporal to non-commissioned officer, he truly has to be one of the best in his unit.

Transition Team of Ministry of Defense is trying to secure certain resources for care of as many people as possible through a trust fond. Regional transitional centers – Banja Luka, Mostar and Sarajevo are formed. All soldiers that sign in those transitional centers will supposedly be taken care of, therefore they will not be “kicked out on the street”. The role of Parliamentary Military Commissioner is to follow the processes of law and equity. I am not in position to decide which one of them will get those assets, or will they get them, I only follow the violation of their rights if they happen during those processes.

What is the message we can finish this conversation with?

Lastly, I would like to emphasize that adequacy of existence of the institution of Parliamentary Military Commissioner has already been confirmed. So far, more than 70 complaints were registered in the Office of Parliamentary Military Commissioner. They are largely related to status questions, process of ranking, so called promotion in service, and a certain number of complaints are related to salaries, fees, separated life, expenses of transportation. Also, we have one group that refers to so called early discharge. They have signed contracts on June 18th 2007, where it says that professional military service lasts for three years. They were discharged in February this year, three months earlier.

All complaints are registered, they are registered in Parliament, went through protocol and are being investigated, as specified in law. So far we have solved eight complaints, and we solved over 10 complaints if we take into consideration that law specified the possibility of mediation, that is giving the opportunity to General Inspectorate and units to fix irregularities, so investigation is not led. Over ten such cases are solved. Seven out of eight civil complaints were forwarded to Ombudsman of BiH, that is, cooperation between the Institution of Parliamentary Military Commissioner and Ombudsman of BiH was established. So, adequacy of existence of this institution is already noticeable.

Finally, I would like to say that Bosnia and Herzegovina is, through this institution, a member of International Institution of Military Ombudsmen. The first conference was held in Berlin in 2009, and the second, which i have attended as the first Parliamentary Military Commissioner, was held recently in Vienna.

Text and photo: Željka ŠULC