The Office of the South African Military Ombud delivered a paper at the first session of the 11th International Conference of Ombud Institutions for the Armed Forces (11ICOAF) that took place in Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The conference, which ran from 28 to 29 October, marks a decade of international conferences, which were first initiated in Berlin in 2009 and which have taken place annually since and last year was held in South Africa.
This year the conference focussed on the topic of “Building Resilient and Sustainable Ombuds Institutions”, specifically, how ombuds institutions can develop stronger internal capacities so that they are able to withstand threats and adapt to changing and challenging environments.
Against the backdrop of states encroaching on democratic space, the conference explored how ombuds institutions can avoid politicization and attacks against their impartiality and independence, without compromising their mandate.
Speaking at the gathering, acting South African Military Ombud Simphiwe Damane Mkosana told delegates that the concept of a Military Ombud in South Africa is embedded in their Constitution which guarantees everyone the right to have access to the court or independent tribunal to have their matters resolved.
“Our Constitution also contains a Bill of Rights which guarantees a number of rights such as the right to equality, the right to fair labour practises as well as the right to just and fair administrative action. These human rights that are enshrined in our Constitution applies to all including our soldiers,” said Mkosana.
She said the question of independence for the Office has always arisen due to the fact that they report to the Minister of Defence and that because so far the Military Ombuds have been former members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).
“Although the perception might seem negative, our experience is that having a former general serving as an Ombud have positive spin-offs as these incumbents are influential and are able to penetrate the channels of command in the DOD,” she said.
Mkosana said Ombud institutions have a duty to serve and maintain due diligence in how they carry out their functions as that also contributes to building a resilient organisation. “As an Office we employ knowledgeable, fit and proper personnel who themselves are ambassadors for the office. We believe that our approach to complaints handling is more conciliatory, consensus building and is what makes the office sustainable.”