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Operating abroad: Enhancing the ombuds institutions’ cooperation in the context of UN peacekeeping operations

[3-4 October 2022]


Rights and duties of armed forces personnel in peacetime and wartime: between policy and practice


Rights and duties of armed forces personnel in peacetime and wartime: between policy and practice

The world’s first ever ombuds institution emerged in response to armed conflict. In 1709, after his defeat by Russian Emperor Peter the Great in the Battle of Poltava, Swedish King Charles XII took refuge near Bender, in present-day Moldova, at the invitation of Ottoman rulers who also viewed the Russian Emperor as an enemy. During the almost decade-long exile of Charles, Sweden was in crisis, suffering from poverty, plagues, depleted resources, the dangers of ongoing war, and widespread corruption. Charles was aware that Sweden was in dire straits and, guided by a coterie of advisors, initiated a series of policy and administrative reforms that, among other things, resulted in the creation of a new institution – the King’s Ombudsman.


Though this first ombuds institution may never have emerged were it not for war, neither this proto-ombuds institution nor its contemporary offshoots were or are meant to be war actors. Conversely, ombuds institutions are built for peace. They serve to protect the individual rights of armed forces personnel and improve governance of the defence sector. Still, ombuds institutions can certainly contribute to the operational effectiveness of armed forces (as attested at 13ICOAF in 2021), and can also ensure that principles of legality and accountability, as well as ethics, are fully respected before, during, and after armed conflict.


Global developments since last year’s 13ICOAF once again demand that the ombuds community continues unpacking their complex role in both peacetime and wartime. At that conference, participants discussed the challenges facing ombuds inquiry teams in gathering evidence, and the methodology used to investigate allegations, of war crimes committed in Afghanistan. The armed conflict in Ukraine has re-actualized this topic, as early independent expert reports (such as one commissioned by the OSCE) have concluded that violations of both International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) have occurred in Ukraine. To that end, it is vital to examine how ombuds institutions can contribute to the respect of IHL and IHRL during armed conflict.


Thus, this year’s conference, 14ICOAF, explores the role of ombuds institutions before and during armed conflict, by focusing on the implications of command responsibility and the duty to obey orders (as well as the duty to disobey illegal orders). Recognizing the comprehensive role of contemporary armed forces, which is captured by the three missions model, 14ICOAF will move beyond discussing only the so-called first mission (defence of the state against external military threats) by also addressing the other two – peacekeeping and assisting civilian authorities to fight hybrid threats. These two missions are approached through a lens specific to the needs and priorities of ombuds institutions. Peacekeeping, for example, is considered from the perspective of female armed forces personnel, looking at their experience in peacekeeping and how it has impacted their career paths. And, while the third mission was analysed in the context of COVID-19 at last year’s conference, the focus of 14ICOAF will be on the role of armed forces in supporting law enforcement. Finally, as any deployment (external or internal), especially in a combat operation, can have significant consequences on the health of soldiers, special attention is dedicated to this issue at 14ICOAF as well. It is important for the ombuds community to understand the complex nature of the right to health and the diversity of comparative legislation regulating different aspects of compensation for injuries incurred during deployment.


The objective of 14ICOAF is for ombuds institutions to share and exchange knowledge with peer organizations regarding the ways they can contribute to protecting the rights of armed forces personnel during both wartime and peacetime.


Participants will explore this broad topic through a carefully designed series of sessions, each meant to illuminate specific questions or rights – such as obeying orders during armed conflict, contemporary gender issues, or the right of armed forces personnel to health. Good practices shared during the conference will be compiled and endorsed by participants in a non-binding Conference Statement.

To date, representatives of ombuds institutions of over 50 countries have participated in the ICOAF initiative, which has been ongoing since 2009.


Find documentations relating to the 14 ICOAF below.

Programme english.PNG

Programme in English

Programme Français.PNG


Programme en Français

International Conference of

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