Law to protect soldiers would be ‘dangerous’ to UK forces’ reputation, PM warned

A bill that aims to repress claims against British troops was “dangerous” to the reputation of the UK’s armed forces, Johnson has been warned. (File/AFP)
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Updated 18 September 2020

Law to protect soldiers would be ‘dangerous’ to UK forces’ reputation, PM warned

  • “This bill would be a stain on the country’s reputation,” military and political figures said
  • “To create de facto impunity for such crimes would be a damaging signal for Britain to send to the world,” the letter added

LONDON: A bill that aims to repress claims against British troops was “dangerous and harmful” to the reputation of the UK’s armed forces and the safety of its personnel, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been warned.
Military and political figures have encouraged the British premier to reconsider the “ill-conceived” legislation, which will return to the House of Commons next week, The Times reported.
Former head of the armed forces , Field Marshal Charles Guthrie, ex-defense secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, and former attorney-general, Dominic Grieve, sent a letter to Johnson on Thursday sharing their concerns about the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, the British newspaper said.
The draft law seeks to limit false and old allegations against personnel through measures including a statutory presumption against criminal prosecution five years after an alleged crime.
Compelling new evidence must be presented, and the attorney-general’s consent secured in order for the presumption to be overruled. The bill is only applicable to overseas operations.
In the letter, Guthrie and other signatories said: “We find it disturbing that the government’s approach … creates a presumption against prosecution of torture and other grave crimes (with only rape and sexual violence excepted) after five years.
“We believe that the effective application of existing protocols removes the risk of vexatious prosecution. To create de facto impunity for such crimes would be a damaging signal for Britain to send to the world.
“This bill would be a stain on the country’s reputation. It would increase the danger to British soldiers if Britain is perceived as reluctant to act in accordance with long-established international law,” they added.
Britain’s most senior military judge had warned defense secretary, Ben Wallace, that the legislation could leave British troops more likely to face prosecution for war crimes at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, The Times revealed in June.
As the legislation sets out protections relating only to domestic crimes, it could encourage police and prosecutors to focus on pursuing war-crime charges, Judge Jeffrey Blackett said.
The Ministry of Defense has said that the legislation “strikes the right balance” between the rights of victims and “fairness to those who defend this country.”


Brazil's Bolsonaro rejects coronavirus vaccine from China

Updated 2 min 17 sec ago

Brazil's Bolsonaro rejects coronavirus vaccine from China

SAO PAULO: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday rejected the announced purchase of 46 million doses of a potential vaccine against the coronavirus being developed by a Chinese company and tested in a state governed by a political rival, prompting some to question if he was allowing politics to steer public health decisions.
“The Brazilian people will not be anyone’s guinea pig,” Bolsonaro said on his social media channels, adding that the vaccine has not yet completed testing, which is the case with all potential vaccines for the virus. “My decision is to not purchase such a vaccine.”
Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello had announced the purchase Tuesday in a meeting with Sao Paulo Gov. João Doria, a foe of Bolsonaro’s whose state is participating in the vaccine’s development through its Butantan Institute. The cost of the acquisition was estimated at 2 billion reais ($360 million).
“Butantan’s vaccine will be Brazil’s vaccine,” Pazuello said.
A Brazilian Health Ministry document issued Monday and shared by Sao Paulo’s government Wednesday confirmed that the ministry had put in writing its intention to buy the doses of the “Butantan Vaccine-Sinovac/Covid-19” for an estimated price of $10.30 each.
The document made explicit the purchase was contingent upon the health regulator’s approval. Bolsonaro told journalists that protocol will be canceled.
Claudio Couto, a political science professor at Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university, felt the president’s move had little to do with the virus and was more a way to hurt Doria, who is widely cited as a likely challenger to Bolsonaro’s 2022 reelection bid.
“His concern is to be a strong candidate for reelection, and that often means giving trouble to his adversaries,” Couto said.
Bolsonaro and Doria have had an adversarial relationship since the start of the pandemic, with each taking opposite stances regarding stay-at-home recommendations and restrictions on activity. The governor, whose state is Brazil’s most populous, heeded the counsel of public health experts and adopted such measures, which the president blasted, arguing the economic fallout could kill more than the disease.
Brazil has confirmed more than 153,000 deaths from COVID-19, the second most in the world, behind only the US The South American nation has also reported 5.2 million confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, the world’s third highest tally.
“It isn’t ideology, it isn’t politics, and it isn’t the electoral process that saves. It is the vaccine,” Doria told reporters in the national capital, Brasilia.
During a brief news conference in the Sao Paulo countryside, Bolsonaro shot back at Doria, accusing the governor of playing politics by hurrying out a vaccine in an effort to buoy his popularity. The president also accused his adversaries, including Doria, of “promoting a narrative of terrorism since the start of the pandemic.”
Brazil has a long tradition of immunization programs. The South American country has a struggling, but universal public health care system, that has been key to stopping outbreaks of measles, yellow fever and other diseases.
Bolsonaro has said no one will be forced to get a coronavirus vaccine. But his comments Wednesday reflected particular skepticism of the vaccine being developed by Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac.
He has often expressed mistrust of the Asian power, which is Brazil’s biggest trading partner, particularly on the campaign trail in 2018. He called China “heartless” and said that under his watch it wouldn’t be allowed to buy up Brazil.
“THE CHINESE VACCINE OF JOÃO DORIA,” Bolsonaro wrote on social media Wednesday. ″For my government, any vaccine, before it is made available to the population, must be PROVEN SCIENTIFICALLY.″
Despite that nod to scientific rigor, Bolsonaro for months touted the healing powers of hydroxychloroquine even as studies indicated the anti-malarial drug was ineffective against the coronavirus and caused harmful side effects.
In June, Brazil’s government announced a deal with Oxford University and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to purchase 100 million doses of its potential coronavirus vaccine.
It has become common practice for governments to purchase doses of promising coronavirus vaccines, to build a stockpile in case they are proven effective. That investment is usually not refundable if the shot fails.
Earlier, the executive secretary of Brazil’s Health Ministry said in a televised statement that there had been a misunderstanding in the announcement about buying the CoronaVac vaccines.
“There is no intention to buy vaccines from China,” said Antonio Elcio Franco, who added there will be only “a Brazilian vaccine” made at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo. Those shots, however, would still be based upon Sinovac’s research.
At least two governors, including Flavio Dino in Maranhao state, said they would fight Bolsonaro’s administration if it refused authorization for a vaccine that works, whatever its provenance.
“We don’t want a new war,” said Dino, another adversary of the president. “Governors will go to Congress and to courts to ensure that the population has access to all vaccines that are efficient and safe. Health is a bigger asset than ideological or electoral disputes.”