Self-serving, misleading and dangerous: Liberty condemns Government’s plan to shirk human rights obligations in future armed conflicts

06 April 2017

Government plans to abandon its European Convention on Human Rights obligations during future conflicts are unlawful, incoherent, wilfully misleading and designed to protect the Ministry of Defence from scrutiny, Liberty has warned today.

In October 2016, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced its intention to create a ‘presumption of derogation’ from the Convention (ECHR) during all future conflicts taking place abroad. None of the other 46 countries signed up to the ECHR has ever taken this step.

In damning written evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) inquiry into the plans – which closes tomorrow (Friday 7 April) – Liberty condemns the MoD’s approach as self-serving, misleading and dangerous.

Liberty’s response highlights that:

1. The Government’s repeated assertion that human rights laws prevent troops from operating effectively on the battlefield is entirely false. The ECHR is not a pacifist document. It was drafted as a response to the horrors of the Second World War, with armed conflict firmly in mind, and allows the use of lethal force in accordance with the laws of war.

2. Leaving its human rights commitments at our borders would seriously damage the reputation of the United Kingdom and its Armed Forces, and embolden other states to disregard rights in conflict situations both at home and abroad. The UK military’s international reputation, as well as its sense of integrity, honour and self-respect, centres on its commitment to applying the highest legal standards.

3. Laws must not be silenced by war. A general presumption to abandon ECHR obligations in all future conflicts would show contempt for the rule of law and put rights at serious risk. The Government has given no evidence to demonstrate that its purported derogation would be necessary or lawful.

In fact, Defence Minister Michael Fallon has himself admitted that many credible historic claims of abuse against the MoD are still to be properly examined. Judges already have the means to strike out any meritless litigation against the Armed Forces – and to properly examine those with merit.

4. Under the guise of protecting troops, the MoD is seeking only to protect itself. The Government’s intention to derogate from the ECHR – when viewed in conjunction with proposals to prevent servicemen and women from suing the MoD for negligence – will prohibit civilians, soldiers and their families from seeking truth and justice in an independent court when they or their loved ones suffer injury or death. It exposes the MoD’s clear plan to disregard human rights and insulate itself from scrutiny.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “The Government is attempting a reckless confidence trick, using smoke and mirrors to shirk their human rights obligations and insulate themselves from scrutiny. We must not let them get away with it.

“We urge the JCHR to look at the evidence and expose this for what it is – a nakedly self-serving, dangerous plan that would shut down any critical examination of the Ministry of Defence and deprive soldiers and civilians of justice.”

Liberty’s Soldiers’ Rights campaign seeks to ensure the fundamental human rights of our troops are safeguarded and respected.

Contact Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831 128

Notes to Editors:

  • Liberty’s detailed submission to the Joint Committee for Human Rights can be viewed here.