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Torture has been illegal in the UK for over 300 years – today the Overseas Operations Bill will overturn this

Torture has been illegal in the UK for over 300 years – today the Overseas Operations Bill will overturn this

Liberal Democrats have serious concerns about this disturbing Bill and its implications for human rights, writes Alistair Carmichael MP. | PA Images

3 min read

The Overseas Operations Bill will not deliver adequate protection for our armed forces personnel – rather, it will reduce their rights.

Today, the government is seeking to effectively decriminalise torture by introducing wide-ranging, draconian powers that would block prosecutions for torture offences. This comes following the Internal Market Bill, which the government itself admitted would break international law.

For more than 300 years torture has been illegal in the UK. But today the Overseas Operations Bill in the House of Commons would overturn this position. Senior UK military figures have raised their concerns about this, with Field Marshall Lord Guthrie writing it “provides room for a de facto decriminalisation of torture” and former senior military legal adviser Lt Col Nicholas Mercer describing the Bill as “egregious”.

Liberal Democrats have serious concerns about this disturbing Bill and its implications for human rights, the rule of law, and the UK’s position as a leading voice for these values internationally. Any subversion of human rights commitments is totally unacceptable.

This is yet another sign that this government is determined to undermine the UK’s human rights standards

What the government is proposing is a Bill that would grant impunity to perpetrators of torture. This is shocking and would breach the UK’s obligations under multiple international treaties to investigate and prosecute acts of torture no matter how long ago they occurred. It violates commitments in the UN Convention against Torture, the Geneva Convention and the Human Rights Act. This is yet another sign that this government is determined to undermine the UK’s human rights standards from those of its closest neighbours in the EU.

Liberal Democrats have tabled an amendment that would remove the clause in the Bill which provides for derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights. We are also signatories to a series of cross-party amendments to remove the ‘triple lock’ of limitations on torture prosecutions.

Despite the government’s claims, the Overseas Operations Bill will not deliver adequate protection for our armed forces personnel, to whom we owe so much. The Bill reduces the rights of service personnel, including the right to seek personal injury or human rights damages after six years will only benefit the Ministry of Defence.

By far the largest proportion of claims against the Ministry of Defence from 2014 to 2019 were brought by service personnel seeking compensation for harms suffered during active service. Liberal Democrats have tabled a series of amendments to the Bill to ensure that service personnel can continue to bring civil claims forward.

The Prime Minister and his Ministers must now seriously consider, do they really want to make themselves the advocates for those committing torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity?

 

Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Home Affairs.

Read the most recent article written by Alistair Carmichael MP - Boycotting the G20 can help improve Human Rights in Saudi Arabia

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