“We know that this Government are no strangers to violating international law & the bill in its current form only seeks to further diminish our global reputation. “Kate Osborne MP
This week saw the Overseas Operations Bill being passed through the commons during its 2nd reading. I was proud to not only share my concerns over the bill during the debate, but also to join 17 Parliamentary Labour Party colleagues in voting against this shameful bill.
The Overseas Operations Bill essentially violates the rule of law and fails to protect the safety, wellbeing and rights of our military personnel. It fails in its primary purpose: it does not provide greater legal protections to Armed Forces personnel and veterans who have served on military operations overseas.
I spoke of my concerns that the bill denies public transparency and accountability for military interventions. There is an assumption within it that all allegations made against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and UK forces are vexatious, and that the MoD and UK forces are always in the right. We know from history that this has not always been the case.
Whilst it is welcome to see that sexual offences are exempt from the bill; it is deeply concerning that other war crimes and crimes against humanity are not. The opposition to the use of torture is enshrined in the Army Field Manual and MoD doctrine, yet the Government are now trying to exclude the use of torture from the triple lock against prosecutions via this bill. The Human Rights group Liberty have stressed that if the bill becomes law, it will result in the effective decriminalisation of torture and many other breaches of the Geneva Convention.
On Wednesday night, much of the debate focused on the past, but I believe with any legislation we also need to look to the future. We know that this Government are no strangers to violating international law and the bill in its current form only seeks to further diminish our global reputation. How can we as a nation criticise and hold States to account for torturous practices, if we are happy to set laws that would allow us to do exactly that?
The bill also gives little protections to those who have served their country overseas. For example, it is well documented that stress disorders can manifest many years after the original trauma. Therefore, by the bill allowing a time limit on claims to be introduced, it denies service personnel the ability to hold the MoD to account on any civil claims from more than six years ago. UK service personnel & their families should be afforded the same employment rights as those they seek to defend. The bill gives the MoD a free pass where its negligence has resulted in a needless injury, or worse.
I sat and listened to the offensive arguments made by some Tory MPs that “You cannot be a supporter of our armed forces and vote against this bill”. We cannot let the Tories get away with making these arguments: there is nothing supportive about undermining and letting down our veterans. The reality is that our veterans have been let down by this and previous governments for far too long. The appropriate care, training, housing and the required mental and physical health services are just not adequate for those who have served this country. This bill will only add to these problems.
The Tories may want to use the Overseas Operations Bill to feed into the culture war, but there should be no tension between any notion of British patriotism and the international and domestic rule of law. We must not continue to let the Tories set the tone and decide what it means to be patriotic.
Ultimately, I voted against the Overseas Operations Bill as I believe it fails those who have served our country and it seeks to further diminish our global reputation.
- This is the second of Kate Osborne’s monthly columns for Labour Outlook, alongside Apsana Begum MP, Richard Burgon MP, John McDonnell MP and Jon Trickett MP.