The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday urged legislators in the UK to heed warnings that the proposed Overseas Operations (Personnel and Veterans) bill, in its current form, risks undermining key human rights obligations that Britain has undertaken. himself out of respect.
He expressed concern that, unless amended appropriately, the bill could protect military personnel operating overseas from being held accountable for acts of torture or other serious international crimes.
The bill is now in the final stages of the legislative process, and will soon be debated again by the House of Lords, Britain’s upper house, where amendments may still be made.
The purpose of the bill is stated as “to provide greater certainty to Service personnel and veterans with respect to claims and potential claims for historic events taking place in complex armed conflict environments abroad. “It seeks to achieve this, in particular, by introducing new preconditions for prosecution of alleged violations covered by the bill.
In its current form, the proposed legislation raises substantial questions about Britain’s future compliance with its international obligations, particularly under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), as well as the Geneva Conventions. 1949. This includes the obligation to prevent, investigate and prosecute acts such as torture and extrajudicial killings, and does not distinguish when such offenses were committed.
“As it is currently being drafted, the bill will make it less likely that British service members in overseas operations will be held accountable for serious human rights violations that constitute an international crime,” Bachelet said.
Bachelet urged that all international crimes for which Britain is under an international legal obligation to investigate and prosecute be exempted from the proposed restrictions. He welcomed the fact that Schedule 1 of the bill already excluded many sexual offenses, including rape, from the bill’s scope. He urged that all other crimes with the same seriousness and care be treated in the same way.
“The prohibition of torture in international law is clear and absolute,” Bachelet said. “Article 2 of the Convention against Torture expressly states that ‘There are no circumstances of any kind, whether a state of war or threat of war, internal political instability or other public emergency, can be used to justify torture.'” it does not recognize the new distinctions that the bill will bring into law.
“The Foreign Operations Bill risks undermining these clear obligations in several ways,” Bachelet said. This includes the proposed introduction of formal presumptions to prosecution of related crimes committed more than five years earlier, when members of the military abroad. The law also requires prosecutors in such cases to ‘give special weight’ to certain matters, especially the adverse effects
about the conditions the service members faced during implementation. This could result in serious crimes not being adequately addressed – potentially violating UK obligations, including under the Convention against Torture and other international treaties.
Another potential obstacle to full accountability is the new requirement of approval by the Attorney General or, where applicable, the Advocate General of Northern Ireland, before prosecution can proceed for related offenses committed more than five years earlier.
The High Commissioner also expressed concern about other provisions in the bill, including those that would limit the court’s ability to consider certain civil suits in connection with overseas operations, after more than six years have passed. He pointed out that this could adversely affect the rights of victims to recovery, redress and access to justice that are recognized under international law.
Another concern is that the current text of the bill places the task on the Government to consider reducing the international human rights obligations set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, with respect to such overseas operations.
“I appreciate the Government’s involvement with my Office on this matter. I also note that similar concerns have been raised by many politicians, NGOs, lawyers and former senior British military officers, as well as by United Nations Committee Against Torture fund the United Nations Special Rapporteur group, including the Special Rapporteur on Torture, “Bachelet said.
“I urge UK legislators in both the Houses of Parliament and Government to take these concerns fully into account when reviewing the bill, and to ensure that British law remains completely unambiguous with respect to accountability for international crimes committed by individuals at any time, anywhere or by. who they are committed to, “he said.
“The ability of British courts to resolve the most serious charges against military personnel, with the independence and justice they are known to around the world, must be defended and strengthened, rather than diminished by such problematic grounds,” he added. .