UK Parliament must not introduce impunity for war crimes, say UN experts


UN human rights experts have called on MPs in the Westminster parliament to reject the Overseas Operations (service personnel and Veterans) Bill, which seeks to prevent prosecutions of British armed forces personnel for serious crimes such as torture and unlawful killing.

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UK Parliament must not introduce impunity for war crimes, say UN experts (UN Human Rights, link):

"GENEVA (5 October 2020) – UN human rights experts* today called on the UK Parliament to reject a government bill they say would give British soldiers advance immunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

They said the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, now before Parliament, violates the UK’s obligations under international humanitarian law, human rights law and international criminal law, and protects British soldiers serving abroad from charges for serious international crimes, including unlawful killing and torture.

“There can be no excuse for unlawful killings or torture,” the experts said. “The universal prohibition against torture is absolute and non-derogable – it is considered so important that it cannot be limited or suspended under any circumstances. Governments cannot lawfully grant impunity or otherwise decline to investigate and prosecute such crimes.”


The Overseas Operations Bill has cleared two of five steps necessary for passage by the lower house of Parliament, the House of Commons, and now is being given a line-by-line examination by the Public Bill Committee."

There is no secret about the aims of the Bill, although government pronouncements have been cloaked in rather obtuse language. The government says it aims to introduce a "triple lock" that will:

"give service personnel and veterans greater certainty that the unique pressures placed on them during overseas operations will be taken into account when prosecutions decisions are made concerning alleged historical offences."

That "triple lock" consists of:

  • a presumption against prosecution in respect of alleged offences committed on overseas military operations more than five years ago, pursuant to which decisions to bring proceedings in such cases will be ‘exceptional’
  • a requirement for prosecutors to give particular weight to certain matters in reaching decisions in such cases
  • a requirement to obtain the consent of the Attorney General or, in the case of Northern Ireland, the Advocate General, before a prosecution can proceed.

See: Overseas Operations (service personnel and Veterans) Bill (, link)

And the progress of the Bill in parliament: Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill 2019-21 (, link)

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