Labour halts UK government 'amnesty' bill for soldiers accused of torture and war crimes

Labour halts UK government 'amnesty' bill for soldiers accused of torture and war crimes
The controversial bill faced criticism from human rights groups.
3 min read
26 August, 2020
The government suspended the bill [Getty]

The UK Labour Party has managed to suspend a bill that would make it difficult to prosecute war criminals and soldiers accused of torture while serving abroad.

Referred to as the Oversees Operations Bill, it introduces a "statutory presumption against prosecution" after five years for all UK forces abroad, including those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The bill was introduced in May and was expected to be introduced in parliament in September, despite human rights groups saying it would violate human rights law

It Conservative Party's early campaign pledged to combat "vexatious legal claims" that they say "have recently undermined our armed forces".

Labour addressed the UK Defence Minister Ben Wallace and said the bill "clearly creates the risk that serious violations could go unpunished".

Dan Dolan, the deputy director of Reprieve, a human rights group, told The Guardian that he believed the bill would "effectively decriminalise acts of torture which took place more than five years ago".

"Torture has been illegal in this country for more than three centuries," he added.

Emma Norton, director of the Centre for Military Justice said: "Where there are credible allegations of torture, crimes against humanity or unlawful killing, there is an obligation on the state to properly and openly investigate."

"The concern is that this bill gives government the power to block investigations as long as five years have passed."

War crimes cover-up

Last November, the British Army was accused of covering up war crimes, including torture, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Leaked documents seen by The Sunday Times in late 2019 have exposed how senior military commander and ministry of defence officials kept reports of war crimes allegedly committed by British soldiers under wraps.

Military detectives discovered evidence of murders by an SAS soldier, beatings, torture and sexual abuse of detainees by members of the Black Watch. There were also reports of deaths in custody, The Sunday Times and BBC Panorama have revealed.

The detectives also uncovered allegations that military commanders falsified evidence in an attempt to cover up such accusations.

Those claims were strong enough to see one of the SAS' most senior commanders referred to prosecutors for attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Evidence of war crimes committed by SAS and Black Watch soldiers came out during two war crimes inquires, Operation Northmoor for Afghanistan and the Iraq Historic Allegations Team.

But pressure from the ministry of defence, at that time chaired by Sir Michael Fallon, saw the inquires closed before the evidence could come to trial.

Inquiry investigators alleged the evidence had been swept aside for "political reasons". Lord Macdonald, a former director of public prosecutions, called the closure of investigations "absolutely reprehensible".

"Key decisions were being taken out of our hands," said one investigator. "There was more and more pressure coming from the ministry of defence to get cases closed as quickly as possible."

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