LONDON, (The Southern African Times) – The British Parliament is preparing to vote on legislation that would prevent members of the armed forces from being prosecuted for historical war-crime offenses, including torture.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson proposed legislation earlier this year that would make it exceptional to prosecute service members once five years have elapsed after an alleged incident.
He tabled the bill after a public outcry over the repeated prosecution and subsequent clearing of Maj. Robert Campbell, who was accused of drowning an Iraqi teenager in 2003. Campbell underwent eight separate investigations over 17 years for the incident.
A cross-party grouping of parliamentarians opposed to the bill have tabled an amendment that would exclude acts of torture from the legislation, which will be voted upon on Tuesday.
They warn that in its current state, the bill would irreparably harm the UK’s reputation abroad.
In a joint op-ed in The Times, David Davis, a former service member and senior Conservative minister, and Dan Jarvis, a member of the opposition Labour Party and former army officer, highlighted the case of Baha Mousa, an Iraqi hotel receptionist tortured and killed by the UK’s armed forces, as reason to exclude torture from the bill.
Mousa was abducted by several members of the British armed forces alongside seven other Iraqi men. After trying to escape, he was killed. He was found to have suffered 93 injuries.
“Only one of the soldiers was successfully convicted,” Davis and Jarvis said. “The judge in this case was clear why he believed more convictions were not secured — ‘simply because there is no evidence against them as a result of a more or less obvious closing of ranks.’ Baha Mousa’s case demonstrates just how difficult it can be to secure a conviction for such treatment.”
They said despite such behavior being rare among British troops, there are still outstanding accusations against soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If these are ignored, as the bill would allow, it could do “grave damage to our armed forces’ standing and effectiveness,” they added.
The bill would render it “virtually impossible to prosecute acts of torture even where there was extensive evidence,” they said.
“All it does is place in real doubt the UK’s unequivocal prohibition and abhorrence of torture.”
This sentiment was echoed by Dan Dolan, deputy director of Reprieve, a human rights campaign group. “Turning a blind eye to torture would undermine and erode the UK’s international standing,” he said.