Last night I voted against the government’s Overseas Operations Bill, which fails to meet our obligations on human rights abroad and fails to meet our obligations to service personnel when they return home.
The UK should aspire to be a global torch bearer for human rights. Our military should be held to the highest professional standards. The triple-lock and five-year limit on prosecutions in this Bill make a mockery of any claim we might have to respect human rights and international law.
They grant impunity in all but name for some of the most serious crimes someone can commit, if the offences are carried out overseas by a member of the military.
Human rights don’t change depending on the miles you’ve travelled and the borders you’ve crossed – they are universal and they are non-negotiable. From Hallam to Herat, we all have the right to live free from torture or war crimes.
That’s why I was appalled to read in the Bill committee minutes that Ministers had excluded torture because – and I quote – ‘we expect our service personnel to undertake actions that are intrinsically violent in nature [which may lead to] allegations of torture or war crimes’.
Torture is clearly defined in international law. It isn’t accidental and it’s not a grey area – it’s the intentional act of inflicting very serious and cruel suffering on another person. It can’t be justified with ‘heat of the moment’ arguments and it’s ridiculous to say that conventional military operations could be mistaken for torture.
Alongside the hundreds of constituents who have contacted me about this Bill, I completely oppose any suggestion that there are some circumstances in which torture might be excusable.
Not only are these proposals an affront to human rights, they also fail to support veterans – the group the government says it’s defending. The largest number of civil claims made against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) are claims of negligence brought by former soldiers.
The proposal for a six-year limit on lodging civil cases makes it harder for ex-military personnel to sue the MoD for failure in its duty of care to them. It means that troops who develop PTSD, blindness and other conditions will be left with no recourse to justice. Far from supporting veterans, the government’s proposals are entirely self-serving.
We should reject any attempt to run down the clock on civil claims – and there can be no “get out of jail free” cards for torture or war crimes. There is no stopwatch on justice, and there are no exceptions – no ifs or buts – on human rights.
Obviously my Conservative colleagues disagreed.
My speech during the debate last night 👇