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THE government's bid to give stronger legal protections to British forces fighting overseas is “not about helping veterans” but about protecting the armed forces “as institutions,” peace campaigners argued today.
MPs voted on the second reading of the Overseas Operations Bill, which would create a “triple lock” for troops and veterans, including protections against being prosecuted for alleged offences committed more than five years ago.
Human-rights groups have condemned the proposed legislation, warning that it would effectively “decriminalise torture.”
The Bill has also received criticism for introducing a new six-year limit for veterans to bring claims against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for injuries.
In today’s Commons debate, shadow defence secretary John Healey suggested that the proposals were intended to shield the MoD more than to protect British troops.
He said: “Over the last 15 years, there have been 25 cases brought by injured British troops against the MoD for every one case brought by alleged victims against our troops.
“So, you can see why some of the veterans I’ve talked to about this Bill reckon it’s more about protecting the MoD than it is about protecting troops.”
Left-wing MPs tabled an amendment calling on the Commons to decline a second reading of the legislation because “it violates essential rule of law.”
One of signatories, Labour’s Richard Burgon, described the Bill as a “barrier to justice for victims of torture, murder and war crimes and is a block on British soldiers seeking justice.”
Fellow signatory and party colleague Bell Ribeiro-Addy said: “It won’t protect troops from false claims but limit their claims against the MoD and concentrate power with the executive.
“Senior military and human-rights organisations do not support it. Neither will I.”
Ahead of the vote, the Peace Pledge Union disputed Tory MPs’ claims that the Bill is needed because veterans are routinely “dragged through the courts.”
Campaigns manager Symon Hill said: “Almost no British forces personnel and veterans have been prosecuted over alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“This Bill is not about helping veterans, thousands of whom are facing poverty and homelessness.
"It is about protecting the armed forces as institutions – and they’re already some of the least accountable institutions in the UK.”
MP were due to vote on the Overseas Operations Bill after the Morning Star went to press, with the legislation expected to pass by a comfortable margin.
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