All 2 Baroness D'Souza contributions to the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill 2019-21

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Wed 20th Jan 2021
Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading

Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Defence

Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 20th January 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 3 November 2020 - (large print) - (3 Nov 2020)
Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB) [V]
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My Lords, all that needs to be said about the Bill has already been said, and I will merely reiterate my main concerns in the interests of both my conscience and solidarity.

I welcome the Bill. It is long overdue and will greatly contribute, above all else, to improving morale in the Armed Forces. That said, there are many elements of it that were queried through amendments which were rejected in the other place but which would, I believe, have added clarity to the Bill and, more crucially, would have ensured that the UK remained within its obligations under several international treaties to which it is a state party.

Clearly, I am among many who have raised these issues. I refer to the clauses that allow certain war crimes to remain uncontested and unprosecuted due to an in-built statute of limitations. It appears that there are three specific issues of concern that not only contravene several conventions—the European Convention on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the convention against torture—but leave survivors of torture without redress. Here, I might add, having worked with torture survivors for many years, that many of them yearn for a formal acknowledgment, in terms of a prosecution, of the wrongs that have been done to them so that they might begin their recovery.

There is a triple lock of presumption against prosecution, the requirement that prosecutions against torture can happen only in exceptional cases and the right of the Attorney-General to exercise a veto against prosecution. Taken together, these are in effect a decriminalisation of torture. Astonishingly, it is conceded in the Bill that sexual offences are never acceptable under any circumstances, the implication being that torture, by its omission, is acceptable.

The passing of the Bill into statute in its current form would undermine the UK’s long and good reputation for having championed legislation against war crimes and would negate its actions on the atrocities in Cambodia, Rwanda and the former Republic of Yugoslavia.

The statute of limitations for prosecution is unrealistic, to say the least. Given that most investigations are nearly always very slow to start and often subject to many delays, the presumption of no prosecution will in fact apply to almost every case. It would be both counterproductive in providing a dubious precedent to other, less democratic states and embarrassing for UK officials to call for prosecution of war crimes at international forums on, say, Syria, Iraq or Myanmar, while denying victims in the UK the same legal freedoms. Those concerns will undoubtedly be addressed in later stages of the Bill.

Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Defence

Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill

Baroness D'Souza Excerpts
I am very concerned about the signals in respect of human rights that are being sent by Clause 12. I am hugely persuaded, of course, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in his view that Clause 12 should have no place in this legislation.
Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I am pleased to speak on this Bill for the first time in Committee. The Bill seems so far to have divided the House into at least two camps: those who oppose the Bill altogether and those who seek to amend it radically. I am of the latter camp. Amendment 26, to which I have attached my name, introduces yet another safeguard, one that upholds and supports the UK’s human rights obligations under the two main conventions on human rights. Briefly, as has been said time and again, the Government should not be further enabled to derogate significantly from these conventions in the absence of parliamentary approval.

The emptiness of this clause has already been addressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. I would support the removal of the clause altogether. In case that does not happen, however, Amendment 26 serves as an important safeguard and should prevail. The question of derogation in this context, as we heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, is somewhat contradictory. We all know that torture is a grave breach of the Geneva conventions, with corresponding obligations and sanctions, and, as we have learned, commission of the act of torture in any shape or form is a non-derogable offence.

By including this clause, the Government are acknowledging the extraterritorial application of the European Convention on Human Rights, something that they have hitherto declined to acknowledge. If the clause is included, there will be those who will welcome it precisely due to its support of the extraterritorial application of the European Convention on Human Rights. That said, its inclusion in its current form appears to go against the absolute prohibition on torture and is therefore a dangerous hostage to fortune and should not be in the Bill.