Monday, June 16, 2014

Global rise of military associations

In 2010, a Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted a recommendation on the ‘Human Rights of Members of Armed Forces’ which states that “members of armed forces have the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association . . . [they] have the right to join independent organisations representing their interests . . .” As a result, there is a well-structured social dialogue taking place in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Romania, Switzerland  and the Netherlands concerning military associations. The central question in these debates is how to respect the rights of soldiers to the freedom of association and assembly while at the same time meeting the needs and legitimate concerns of the military, given its unique function. Experience in these European nations has shown that the right of association has not compromised combat efficiency or military discipline. On the contrary, involving democratic military associations in a permanent social dialogue may have de facto improved the morale and loyalty of troops. 

In these European countries, military associations are recognised as valuable partners for defence administrations. For instance, in Germany, the Deutscher Bundeswehr Verband (DBV), an association was created in 1956. It has approximately 200,000 members. The DBV is financed by members’ fees and they employ their own advisory staff. Most of these national military associations are members of the European Organisation of Military Associations (EUROMIL), which was founded in 1972, and which is a conglomerate of more than 42 associations from over 24 EU countries representing approximately 500,000 military members. The stated mission of EUROMIL is that of: “Representing human rights, fundamental freedoms and professional interests of military personnel in Europe”, including the improvement of the living and working conditions of military personnel and the application of and correct implementation of EU social legislation for military personnel.

Currently, there are many areas where the Canadian military fails to ensure that the rights of its members are protected. For instance, the average time for determining a grievance at the Initial Authority (Commanding Officer) level is more than 250 days. Yet, the statutory time limit is 60 days. It gets worse. The time to have a grievance heard at the second and Final Authority (Chief of the Defence Staff) level is now measured in years, rather than months. It is not uncommon for a grievance to take between two and four years before being decided upon. With impunity, therefore, the military is breaking the law to the detriment of members when, ironically, these men and women are exercising the one and only right available to them to challenge a decision or omission by the chain of command. However, at present, they are powerless to have their grievance rights respected. Similar disconcerting experiences are encountered in other areas of military administration and discipline. 

A growing number of European militaries have permitted the formation of Professional Associations to provide some form of equity in otherwise what may be perceived as a vast imbalance of power. The idea behind this trend has been described as to help “mitigate the discipline and loyalty of the armed forces” in these countries. Arguably, members of our armed forces should fully enjoy the right, where the military is not involved in action, to set up, join and play an active role in a professional association geared to protecting their professional interests in the framework of democratic institutions, while at the same time discharging their normal duties. Canada should therefore permit its military to join a professional association and such a professional association should enjoy the right to be consulted in discussions concerning conditions of service for members of the armed forces. This would require no change to the existing law as section 48 of the National Defence Act already allows for the creation of associations which would further the defence of Canada.

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