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THE exclusion of torture and war crimes in the Overseas Operations Bill is “indefensible” and puts troops on a “different legal basis” than society, the House of Lords heard today.
The government’s legislation, which has already been through the Commons, seeks to limit “false and historical allegations” regarding troops in overseas operations by introducing a statutory presumption against prosecution.
The presumption would make it exceptional for personnel to be prosecuted after five years or more since an incident.
Labour peer Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, a former secretary-general of Nato, said he “simply can’t see the justification for exempting torture and war crimes” from the list in the Bill. He added that not including the offences in the legislation would be “incongruous and, indeed, indefensible.”
“I believe that we do a disservice to our troops now and in the future if we put them on a different legal basis in the society they represent and defend,” he said.
Conservative peer Lord King of Bridgwater said: “I’d be interested to see in the committee stage further discussion on the issue between why sexual relations are exclusions but why torture and war crimes aren’t?”
And Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Northover said she had received requests to campaign for the entire Bill to be thrown out. She said: “I don’t think that I have ever participated in a piece of legislation which is so evidently flawed, except maybe the Brexit Bill which sought to break international law.”
The legislation puts Britain’s supposed reputation as “champions of universal human rights and international law” at risk, Labour frontbencher and former defence minister Lord Touhig said.
He said: “[The Bill] calls into question Britain’s proud commitment to the Geneva Convention and undermines our role at the United Nations.
“It threatens our moral authority to require the conduct of other nations to meet the standards set by international convention.”
Today Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen called on the Lords to oppose the “shameful” Bill and to “ensure that British troops are not granted a licence to torture.”
She said: “The government has tried to sell this shockingly unprincipled law using a spurious argument about ‘vexatious’ claims that would amount to granting de-facto immunity for acts of torture and other serious crimes after five years.
“The UK’s international reputation is at stake — this would make terrible law and set a terrible example.”
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