Overseas Operations Bill will ‘decriminalise torture’ says Reprieve

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Reprieve demonstration against secret prisons – the organisation claims that new laws will legalise the use of torture

THE TORY government has announced that the Overseas Operations Bill will get its second reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday, 23rd September.

In its current form, the Bill risks effectively decriminalising torture.
Second reading is a first opportunity for MPs to debate the main principles of the proposed legislation.
Senior military figures including Field Marshall Lord Guthrie have spoken out against the Bill, stating that it ‘provides room for a de facto decriminalisation of torture.’
The Bill would introduce a ‘triple lock’ against prosecutions of UK personnel for crimes committed in the course of ‘overseas operations’, making it almost impossible to bring prosecutions for acts of torture.
Firstly, an unprecedented ‘presumption against prosecution’ states that ‘exceptional’ circumstances would be required to justify prosecution five years or more after the alleged offence: even if there is strong evidence of torture, and even if a prosecution could be firmly in the public interest.
Secondly, prosecutors would be required to give ‘particular weight’ to the reasons ‘against’ prosecutions – even when the offence is torture.
Thirdly, the Attorney General would be able to veto prosecutions – even when there are credible claims of torture that clearly violates domestic and international law.
Reprieve Deputy Director Dan Dolan said: ‘If this Bill becomes law in its current form, it will undermine the UK’s centuries-old ban on torture, put British soldiers at risk and jeopardise operations overseas.
‘It is being sold as legislation to protect our troops, when in fact, it protects the government at the expense of our men and women in uniform.
‘That’s why so many soldiers are speaking out against it.’
Meanwhile, in a significant escalation of its efforts to thwart accountability for alleged war crimes committed by US personnel in Afghanistan, the USA has imposed sanctions against senior staff at the International Criminal Court (ICC), including Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
In June, President Donald Trump issued an executive order authorising asset freezes and family entry bans against ICC officials.
Last year, the US revoked Bensouda’s visa.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has repeatedly sought to undermine and delegitimise the court – a ‘court of last resort’ for victims, which only steps in when domestic authorities fail to investigate credible allegations of serious human rights abuses.
Bensouda is currently investigating allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, committed by US, Taliban and Afghan forces, plus US drone strikes in Pakistan.
‘Even by the standards of the Trump administration, this is a stunning assault on the rule of law,’ said Reprieve Director Maya Foa.
‘In imposing these sanctions, the USA is advertising its contempt not only for the ICC but for international law itself.
‘America’s allies must object in the strongest terms and give the court their full support: anything less would be a betrayal of the thousands of victims of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan who see the ICC investigation as their last hope of justice.’

  • An overwhelming majority of the British public are concerned about key parts of the government’s coronavirus response and want a strategy that protects human rights, Liberty research has found.

The research, conducted by nfpSynergy for Liberty, found:

  • 73 per cent are concerned about homeless people being fined during lockdown.
  • Almost three fifths (58 per cent) were concerned about the ‘heavy-handed’ policing of lockdown.
  • More than three quarters (76 per cent) of respondents want their human rights protected during national crisis.
  • Two thirds (66 per cent) believe everyone should have access to state support during a pandemic – which contrasts with the government’s response which cut off support for some people, even at the height of the outbreak.
  • Nearly two thirds (64 per cent) are concerned about government data collection.
  • Less than two in five (38 per cent) trust the government and private companies with their medical data.

As parliament returned last week, Liberty renewed its call for the repeal of the Coronavirus Act and released this research to show how unpopular details of the legislation are.
The Act runs to 329 pages and was rushed through Parliament in one day at the start of the pandemic, passing on 23 March.
Thanks to cross-sector pressure, a clause was added to ensure that it would be reviewed within six months if it is to remain on the statute books.
It is one of the most dramatic reimagining of State powers in a generation, creating sweeping and radical new policing, border control and data collection powers.
It also waters down fundamental human rights protections including for some of the most marginalised, such as people needing care or in mental health settings.
The human rights organisation’s public attitudes polling found that key concerns raised by Liberty and others are widely shared among the public, piling pressure on Parliament to repeal the Coronavirus Act and build a public health strategy that protects our rights.
Liberty is leading the campaign for Parliament to repeal the Coronavirus Act and is appealing to all parties to ensure this dangerous legislation is removed from the statute books.
Liberty Director Martha Spurrier said: ‘MPs have had six months to watch as the Coronavirus Act reimagined how the government can control and criminalise us.
‘MPs have had six months to watch some of our most marginalised communities get left behind, or actively targeted by blunt State powers.
‘They weren’t the only ones watching – people in the UK have seen the government’s response crash from one mistake to the next, and suffered as blunt coercive powers added to the anxiety we have all faced.
‘We all want a new direction. It is time for Parliament to repeal the Coronavirus Act and create a strategy that protects our rights, as well as our health.’
Parliament, which returned from recess last week, has until 3 October to debate and decide whether the Coronavirus Act remains law.

  • Liberty has also responded to government plans to create a national digital ID system, widely likened to a digital form of ID cards.

Gracie Bradley, Liberty’s Policy and Campaigns Manager, said: ‘The government has given us plenty of reasons to be wary of its digital projects.
‘Recent months have seen backtracks over the planned contact tracing app and exams algorithm, and only last year the Home Office had to apologise to EU nationals and Windrush citizens in the space of a week for data breaches.
‘National digital ID systems tend to rely on creating huge central databases, meaning all of our interactions with the State and public services can be recorded.
‘This personal data could then be accessed by a range of government agencies or even private corporations, potentially in combination with other surveillance technologies like facial recognition.
‘This digital ID proposal would resurrect the failed and expensive experiment by the Labour Government in 2006 when it tried to introduce ID cards.
‘The difference is, this version is likely to be even more intrusive, insecure and discriminatory than last time round, while making it harder for some people to access essential services.’THE TORY government has announced that the Overseas Operations Bill will get its second reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday, 23rd September.
In its current form, the Bill risks effectively decriminalising torture.
Second reading is a first opportunity for MPs to debate the main principles of the proposed legislation.
Senior military figures including Field Marshall Lord Guthrie have spoken out against the Bill, stating that it ‘provides room for a de facto decriminalisation of torture.’
The Bill would introduce a ‘triple lock’ against prosecutions of UK personnel for crimes committed in the course of ‘overseas operations’, making it almost impossible to bring prosecutions for acts of torture.
Firstly, an unprecedented ‘presumption against prosecution’ states that ‘exceptional’ circumstances would be required to justify prosecution five years or more after the alleged offence: even if there is strong evidence of torture, and even if a prosecution could be firmly in the public interest.
Secondly, prosecutors would be required to give ‘particular weight’ to the reasons ‘against’ prosecutions – even when the offence is torture.
Thirdly, the Attorney General would be able to veto prosecutions – even when there are credible claims of torture that clearly violates domestic and international law.
Reprieve Deputy Director Dan Dolan said: ‘If this Bill becomes law in its current form, it will undermine the UK’s centuries-old ban on torture, put British soldiers at risk and jeopardise operations overseas.
‘It is being sold as legislation to protect our troops, when in fact, it protects the government at the expense of our men and women in uniform.
‘That’s why so many soldiers are speaking out against it.’
Meanwhile, in a significant escalation of its efforts to thwart accountability for alleged war crimes committed by US personnel in Afghanistan, the USA has imposed sanctions against senior staff at the International Criminal Court (ICC), including Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
In June, President Donald Trump issued an executive order authorising asset freezes and family entry bans against ICC officials.
Last year, the US revoked Bensouda’s visa.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has repeatedly sought to undermine and delegitimise the court – a ‘court of last resort’ for victims, which only steps in when domestic authorities fail to investigate credible allegations of serious human rights abuses.
Bensouda is currently investigating allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, committed by US, Taliban and Afghan forces, plus US drone strikes in Pakistan.
‘Even by the standards of the Trump administration, this is a stunning assault on the rule of law,’ said Reprieve Director Maya Foa.
‘In imposing these sanctions, the USA is advertising its contempt not only for the ICC but for international law itself.
‘America’s allies must object in the strongest terms and give the court their full support: anything less would be a betrayal of the thousands of victims of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan who see the ICC investigation as their last hope of justice.’

  • An overwhelming majority of the British public are concerned about key parts of the government’s coronavirus response and want a strategy that protects human rights, Liberty research has found.

The research, conducted by nfpSynergy for Liberty, found:

  • 73 per cent are concerned about homeless people being fined during lockdown.
  • Almost three fifths (58 per cent) were concerned about the ‘heavy-handed’ policing of lockdown.
  • More than three quarters (76 per cent) of respondents want their human rights protected during national crisis.
  • Two thirds (66 per cent) believe everyone should have access to state support during a pandemic – which contrasts with the government’s response which cut off support for some people, even at the height of the outbreak.
  • Nearly two thirds (64 per cent) are concerned about government data collection.
  • Less than two in five (38 per cent) trust the government and private companies with their medical data.

As parliament returned last week, Liberty renewed its call for the repeal of the Coronavirus Act and released this research to show how unpopular details of the legislation are.
The Act runs to 329 pages and was rushed through Parliament in one day at the start of the pandemic, passing on 23 March.
Thanks to cross-sector pressure, a clause was added to ensure that it would be reviewed within six months if it is to remain on the statute books.
It is one of the most dramatic reimagining of State powers in a generation, creating sweeping and radical new policing, border control and data collection powers.
It also waters down fundamental human rights protections including for some of the most marginalised, such as people needing care or in mental health settings.
The human rights organisation’s public attitudes polling found that key concerns raised by Liberty and others are widely shared among the public, piling pressure on Parliament to repeal the Coronavirus Act and build a public health strategy that protects our rights.
Liberty is leading the campaign for Parliament to repeal the Coronavirus Act and is appealing to all parties to ensure this dangerous legislation is removed from the statute books.
Liberty Director Martha Spurrier said: ‘MPs have had six months to watch as the Coronavirus Act reimagined how the government can control and criminalise us.
‘MPs have had six months to watch some of our most marginalised communities get left behind, or actively targeted by blunt State powers.
‘They weren’t the only ones watching – people in the UK have seen the government’s response crash from one mistake to the next, and suffered as blunt coercive powers added to the anxiety we have all faced.
‘We all want a new direction. It is time for Parliament to repeal the Coronavirus Act and create a strategy that protects our rights, as well as our health.’
Parliament, which returned from recess last week, has until 3 October to debate and decide whether the Coronavirus Act remains law.

  • Liberty has also responded to government plans to create a national digital ID system, widely likened to a digital form of ID cards.

Gracie Bradley, Liberty’s Policy and Campaigns Manager, said: ‘The government has given us plenty of reasons to be wary of its digital projects.
‘Recent months have seen backtracks over the planned contact tracing app and exams algorithm, and only last year the Home Office had to apologise to EU nationals and Windrush citizens in the space of a week for data breaches.
‘National digital ID systems tend to rely on creating huge central databases, meaning all of our interactions with the State and public services can be recorded.
‘This personal data could then be accessed by a range of government agencies or even private corporations, potentially in combination with other surveillance technologies like facial recognition.
‘This digital ID proposal would resurrect the failed and expensive experiment by the Labour Government in 2006 when it tried to introduce ID cards.
‘The difference is, this version is likely to be even more intrusive, insecure and discriminatory than last time round, while making it harder for some people to access essential services.’