Conference on the Role of the Parliamentary Military Commissioner

{gallery}newsletters/11/3/1{/gallery}In addition to pursuing necessary institutional protections of the human rights and freedoms of military personnel, the Parliamentary Military Commissioner holds a key role in work meant to enhance the position of women in the armed forces, raise soldiers’ awareness of their rights, and sensitize command structures to these issues.

Organized by the BiH Office of the Parliamentary Military Commissioner and the OSCE Mission in BiH, an international conference entitled “The Importance of the Role of the Parliamentary Military Commissioner of BiH in the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms of Military Personnel and Cadets” was held in Sarajevo Holiday Inn Hotel on October 19.

Search for a Cooperation Model

The goals of this conference, which included over 70 participants, were a presentation of the results achieved to date in the protection of human rights and freedoms of military personnel, and the creation of new cooperation models to be used with institutions dealing with similar issues.

“If we want to be a part of modern European trends regarding the respect and enhancement of human rights and freedoms, we have to pay special attention to those categories that have not traditionally been the focus of institutional attention,” Branko Zrno, Chairman of the Joint Committee for Defense and Security of BiH, said at the opening of the conference.

Military personnel constitute a distinct category of citizens due to the specificity of their profession, and they must not be left out of social care within the domain of human rights protection.

“The human rights of every citizen are very important, and, equally so, the rights of every member of the military,” Chairman Zrno stated. The designation of the Parliamentary Military Commissioner, a specific civil service position that resembles that of an Ombudsman, provides an ideal mechanism for the support, enhancement and protection of the human rights of military personnel.

BiH modeled its Office of the Parliamentary Military Commissioner on a similar institution in Germany which has existed for decades and enjoys German constitutional protection. When BiH instituted its own office in 2009, it became the first country in south-east Europe to do so. Hellmut Könighshaus, the Parliamentary Military Commissioner for Germany, was an honorary participant at the conference. Presenting on the experiences of the German model, Commissioner Könighshaus expressed his satisfaction with the progress of the office in BiH, as well as his willingness to provide further active assistance.

Selmo Cikotić, the BiH Minister of Defense, praised the work of the Military Commissioner as “a bright point and a positive example” for present defense and security efforts. He then called attention to the need for complete acceptance of the institution within the command structures of the BiH Armed Forces, as well as their active participation in the process.

“The chain of command should be dominant and staff-oriented, providing a framework for the protection and enhancement of human rights within the Armed Forces of BiH,” Cikotić said.

{gallery}newsletters/11/3/2{/gallery}In his speech, the Parliamentary Military Commissioner of BiH, Boško Šiljegović, said that successful cooperation with the BiH Ministry of Defense had been established, especially in regard to the departments of the General Inspectorate, the Institution of Ombudsman for Human Rights, and the expert services of the Parliamentary Assembly, as well as with religious service providers operating within the Armed Forces. He put special emphasis on “the high level of professionalism” he had encountered within the command structures operating at the military locations he had visited so far.

109 Complaints Received

Moving forward, the Office of the Parliamentary Military Commissioner will pay special attention to the position of women in the military services, to transparency in its work, raising consciousness among soldiers of their individual rights, and the sensitization of command structures to these rights.

The Office of the Military Commissioner in BiH was established in June 2009, after the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly passed the Law on the Parliamentary Military Commissioner of BiH.

The Office has so far received 109 complaints related to the violation of human rights and freedoms of military personnel, of which 44 have been successfully processed. The Military Commissioner has conducted over 35 visits to 25 different locations where units of the Armed Forces of BiH are stationed.

Text and photo: Asaf ALIBEGOVIĆ