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.”


Suicide bomber kills 18 in Afghan capital

Updated 24 October 2020

Suicide bomber kills 18 in Afghan capital

  • There has been an upsurge in violence between Taliban and Afghan forces in the country
  • The US signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February, opening up a path toward withdrawing American troops from the conflict

KABUL: A suicide bomber struck near an education centre in the Afghan capital on Saturday, killing at least 18 people in the latest attack to rock the conflict-wracked country.
Violence on the ground has spiked in recent weeks despite the Taliban and the Afghan government holding peace talks in Qatar to end the country's grinding war.
The suicide attack, which also wounded 57, happened late afternoon at the centre, which offers training and courses for students in higher education in a western district of Kabul.
"A suicide bomber wanted to enter the education centre," Tareq Arian, spokesman for the interior ministry, said in a statement.
"But he was identified by the centre's guards after which he detonated his explosives in an alley."
He said the attack had left at least 18 people dead and 57 wounded.
"I was standing about 100 metres from the centre when a big blast knocked me down," said local resident Ali Reza, who had gone to hospital with his cousin who was wounded in the blast.
"Dust and smoke was all around me. All those killed and wounded were students who wanted to enter the centre."
Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack.
Residents in several districts of western Kabul belong to the minority Shiite Hazara community, often targeted by Daesh militants. 
In the past, extremists have targeted several education centres and other facilities in the area.
In May, a group of gunmen launched a brazen daylight attack on a hospital in west Kabul that left several mothers dead. The gunmen were shot dead after hours of fighting with security forces.