Quakers urge rethink on Overseas Operations Bill

‘This bill threatens the rights of everyone mistreated by the UK armed forces.' (PPU)

Friends have expressed dismay that a controversial armed forces bill passed its second reading in parliament last week.

Writing on Twitter, Grace Da Costa, public affairs and advocacy manager for Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM), said that the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill ‘isn’t fit for our democratic society’.

Both BYM and Quaker Concern for the Abolition of Torture (QCAT) have raised concerns about the bill which aims to introduce a presumption against prosecution after five years for British soldiers serving abroad.

BYM wrote to defence secretary Ben Wallace before the second reading saying the bill would undermine the ability of the judiciary to hold the UK government and authorities to account. According to BYM: ‘The Bill would decriminalise torture and other crimes against humanity by British soldiers if those crimes were committed more than five years previously. It marks an unprecedented departure from the UN Convention Against Torture, European Convention on Human Rights, and Geneva Conventions. Treaties and Conventions are vital for trust and accountability between nations.’

QCAT has also been in correspondence with the Ministry of Defence protesting against the bill and sent a submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights on the subject. It also circulated a draft letter for supporters to send to MPs.

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) added that the bill will make it harder for veterans to take legal action against the Ministry of Defence. It said that in the last year alone compelling evidence of war crimes by British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has been published by The Sunday Times, Panorama and The Guardian.

Symon Hill, campaigns manager of the PPU, said: ‘This bill threatens the rights of everyone mistreated by the UK armed forces, whether civilians in war zones or forces personnel abused by their superiors. It undermines a basic principle of British justice: that we are all subject to the same law.’

The bill passed at second reading on 23 September by 332 to seventy-seven, with the Scottish National Party and Liberal Democrats joining the eighteen Labour rebels in voting against. The Labour Party sacked three junior shadow ministers for breaking the party whip in voting against the bill.

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