It Certainly Doesn’t Protect Soldiers

I am completely baffled by this announcement.

So we, as a supposedly moral and developed nation can unilaterally decide to simply ignore our responsibilities when conducting our (recently mostly unnecessary) military adventures – all on the grounds that our soldiers deserve our support?

Even when those soldiers – who generally signed up to defend their country, not to participate in regional power plays and political agendas – get it wrong and violate the basic responsibilities that European countries agreed should be incumbent on everyone?

Oh, but that’s Europe, isn’t it? And we Brits hate Europe now, don’t we? And now, under the nebulous and ever-shifting auspices of Brexit Meaning Brexit (even though the European Convention on Human Rights – which the UK mostly wrote, incidentally – is an entirely separate treaty from the European Union), the Conservatives have a chance to put the boot into the troublesome concept of human rights, undermining still further our communal national perception of the importance of compassion and restraint in dealing with other human beings.

How the media have raged against the simple idea of people being treated with respect and empathy. But these are dirty words now. Count the times the Daily Mail, the Express and the Sun and their legions of Internet commenters have derided their loathed concept of ‘yooman rights’ – because they can’t even accept the dignity of the basic concept of ‘human’. And when they can pit Britain’s carefully cultivated adoration of ‘Our Lads’ against Nasty Old Europe, it’s easy to push just about any notion – even if it means having to disrespect those same soldiers by imagining them unable to cope with the need to operate within constraints.

This proposal is ostensibly to protect those soldiers from ‘vexatious’ human rights claims. Yet it does precisely the opposite of protect them. It may protect the Ministry of Defence, and it may protect future prime ministers who might want to use the British Armed Forces to conduct further unnecessary, wasteful and destabilising military adventures around the world – but it certainly doesn’t protect soldiers. Des James, the father of soldier Cheryl James, who was found dead at Deepcut Barracks in 1995. It was, Mr James said, only the existence of the ECHR that allowed him to push through MOD stonewalls and smokescreens to establish that Cheryl shot herself, due to “serious and profound failures in the care and supervision that ought to have been provided to her”. Without this legislation, the MOD could have closed the matter with the hour-long inquest they originally gave Ms James’ case, and avoided any criticism.

And besides, the logic here escapes me. We have a civilian legal system that handles a great many false or otherwise malicious complaints, yet no-one would propose abandoning the laws on, say, theft or assault in order to reduce the number of these.

Civilian or military, if ‘vexatious’ complaints are being made, and our system is struggling to deal with them, then it is the system that needs altering, not the laws. The laws are there because all signatories have agreed they need to be. Perhaps the ECHR needs updating. That’s a discussion we would need to have with all the other signatories to reach a joint agreement to amend the treaty. Simply deciding it doesn’t apply to us is a violation of an international treaty, and is the diplomatic height of faithlessness.

The justification given by the government for this move is highly dubious and ethically unsound. We cannot demand of anyone any standard we’re not expected to adhere to ourselves, and that we adhere to anyway, whether or not they do. To make such a demand would be the height of arrogance and hypocrisy. If these laws shouldn’t apply to British soldiers simply because their Britishness makes them immune, then we have no complaint to make over rights violations by other countries. We cannot point to Russia, or North Korea, or any of those other bogeyman states we so love to hate and say, “These are the bad guys.”

Because unless we are willing to place basic humanity on a higher pedestal than that of our vaunted Britishness, then we place ourselves very firmly amongst the ranks of those bad guys.


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