Britain moves to end "vexatious" human rights claims against troops

The British government on Tuesday announced measures to end "vexatious" claims against its troops, saying it planned to remove the application of some European human rights law to future conflicts.

"Over the past decade a series of court judgments have extended the extra-territorial jurisdiction of the European Convention on Human Rights to the battlefield," the government said in a statement.

Exempting British troops from parts of the human rights convention will protect them "from the kind of persistent legal claims that have followed recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan on an industrial scale," it said.

"It will help to protect our troops from vexatious claims, ensuring they can confidently take difficult decisions on the battlefield," Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said.

Fallon said the change will allow Britain "to spend more of our growing defence budget on equipment for them rather than fees for lawyers."

"Combined with the biggest defence budget in Europe, the action we are laying out today means we will continue to play our part on the world stage, protecting UK interests across the globe," Prime Minister Theresa May said.

Human rights group Amnesty International said the move was unlikely to change the legal status of British troops dramatically as they will still be accountable for most human rights abuses.

"No legal manoeuvring means the UK can avoid its obligations to make sure soldiers operating abroad don't carry out human rights abuses such as torture," Allan Hogarth, Amnesty UK's head of government affairs, said in a statement.

"As the government well knows, it has an obligation to ensure that credible allegations of serious abuse carried out by members of its own armed forces are properly investigated," Hogarth said.

"Instead of reducing accountability in anticipation of things going wrong, it's absolutely vital that all members of the armed forces are given the right training and support to prevent abuses occurring in the first place," he said.

A series of official inquiries in recent years have found human rights abuses by British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the most notorious case, an inquiry concluded in 2011 that "a series of brutal acts by members of British forces led directly to the death of Baha Mousa," a young hotel receptionist who died at a British army base in Iraq in 2003.

Last update: Wed, 05/10/2016 - 07:01
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