Ombudsman for the Defence Forces

Ombudsman delivers Keynote Address to the United Nations Training School

06 October 2009

On Tuesday the 6th October, 2009 the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces, Ms. Paulyn Marrinan Quinn S.C. delivered a Keynote Address to the United Nations Training School, at the Military College in Curragh, Co. Kildare, Ireland, to a group of delegates which included members of the Armed or Security Forces from Spain, Zambia, Sweden, Egypt, two Officers from the Irish Police Force - An Garda Siochana, together with members of the Irish Defence Forces from the Command and Staff Course and from the Reserve Defence Force.

The Course entitled “Human Rights for Military Personnel in Peace Support Operations – International Train the Trainers Course” is part of the United Nations Training School Ireland (UNTSI) Programme. UNTSI is the Irish Defence Forces Centre of Excellence for Human Rights Training and offers this Course in conjunction with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR).

The overall objective is to provide participants with an understanding of the legal and operational Human Rights issues and the possible roles and functions of military peacekeepers to promote and protect Human Rights in the Mission area and to enable them to provide high level training on these issues.

The Ombudsman spoke to the Delegates at the conclusion of the Course on the subject of “Ensuring that the guardians of the peace are themselves the beneficiaries of fundamental freedoms and Human Rights protections”.

Ms. Marrinan Quinn was one of the members of the Expert Group who contributed to the Handbook on “Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Armed Forces Personnel” produced by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF). The Ombudsman had spoken at the launch of the OSCE Handbook on the 28th May, 2008 and took the opportunity when speaking to the delegates in the Curragh to focus on the topics covered in the Handbook. She took the opportunity to put forward the view that an Ombudsman for Armed Forces performs many functions which range from monitoring the internal complaints handling processes to ensure that every complaint is satisfactorily processed within the Military Redress of Wrongs procedures and providing an independent Appeals mechanism for those not satisfied with the handling or outcome of their complaints.

Under the legislation which established the Office of Ombudsman for the Defence Forces – (Ombudsman for the Defence Forces Act 2004), the Ombudsman has extensive powers of investigation of relevant facts and documents and installations. In addition to providing an independent appeals mechanism, the Office ensures Civilian oversight of Military administrative matters which is a democratic corrective and, some believe a democratic imperative. Ms. Marrinan Quinn said an Ombudsman provides an independent autonomous Office of oversight and redress and, being complaint focused, the Office is well placed to identify systemic issues.

Ms Marrinan Quinn urged delegates to bear in mind the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights where it emphasised that a common understanding of these rights and freedoms was of the greatest importance to bring about the full realization of the Pledge.

One of the core objectives of the ‘Handbook on Fundamental Freedoms and Human Rights’ for members of Armed Forces is the “Citizen in Uniform” approach which implies that Armed Forces Personnel, whether professional or conscripted, are entitled to the same rights and protections as all other persons subject to certain limitations imposed by Military life.

In recognizing that there is no single applicable model and that the particularities of individual contexts will always influence a given Country’s approach the Handbook provided guidance to OSCE participating States by advancing models that have proved to be successful in a number of countries. The Handbook is not aimed at setting new standards; instead, it seeks to contribute to the effective implementation of existing standards by presenting a number of models, or best practices, from within the OSCE region that demonstrate how Military structures can successfully integrate Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Quoting from the preface to the Report, Ms. Marrinan Quinn endorsed the view expressed that “Armed Forces are an integral part of a Democratic State in society. By fulfilling their defence of national-security functions, the Armed Forces play a key role in enabling a secure environment that allows us to enjoy the inalienable rights and freedoms to which we are all entitled as human beings. As representatives of the State structure, Armed Forces Personnel are bound to respect Human Rights and international humanitarian law in the exercise of their duties…..”

‘I have confidence in the view that when the rights of members of Armed Forces are guaranteed within their own Institutions, Armed Forces Personnel may be more likely to uphold these in the discharge of their tasks – both when in the Barracks and during operations.’