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Liberal Democrats

Stop the Torture Bill

Today, the Government is seeking to effectively decriminalise torture by introducing wide-ranging, draconian powers that would block prosecutions for torture offences.

By Alistair Carmichael MP, Nov 03, 2020 1:11

A metal fence topped with barbed wire

For more than 300 years torture has been illegal in the UK. But today the Overseas Operations Bill in the House of Commons would overturn this position.

Liberal Democrats have serious concerns about this disturbing Bill and its implications for human rights, the rule of law, and the UK’s position as a leading voice for these values internationally.

Any subversion of human rights commitments is totally unacceptable.

We have serious concerns about this disturbing bill.

The Bill would grant impunity to perpetrators of torture. This is shocking, and would breach the UK’s obligations under multiple international treaties to investigate and prosecute acts of torture no matter how long ago they occurred.

This legislation violates commitments in the UN Convention against Torture, the Geneva Convention and the Human Rights Act. It is yet another sign that this Government is determined to undermine the UK’s human rights standards from those of its closest neighbours in the EU.

Liberal Democrats have tabled an amendment that would remove the Government’s provision in the Bill for exemption from the European Convention on Human Rights in overseas operations.

Despite the Government’s claims, this Bill will do nothing to help UK forces.

The Bill reduces the rights of service personnel, including the right to seek personal injury or human rights damages after six years will only benefit the Ministry of Defence. By far the largest proportion of claims against the Ministry of Defence from 2014 to 2019 were brought by service personnel seeking compensation for harms suffered during active service.

We have tabled a series of amendments to the Bill to ensure that service personnel can continue to bring civil claims forward.

But at its heart, this Bill questions our morality as a nation.

Liberal Democrats have long been vocal campaigners against torture.

This Bill questions our morality as a nation.

We led the campaign for a torture inquiry into the Iraq War. We continue to champion human rights in the UK and internationally.

We are clear that this Bill must be amended so that ‘torture’ is included alongside ‘sexual offences’ as human rights violations that can still be prosecuted. And why do the MPs backing this bill believe it is necessary to put a five year limit on prosecuting people involved in acts of torture or war crimes? Some victims will not be physically able to bring cases in this time due to being detained, for example.

We are signatories to cross-party amendments that oppose its deeply problematic provisions on presumption against prosecution, and the five-year limit on torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Survivors of torture and their loved ones must have access to justice.


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