issued 13 June 2006
Armed Forces Bill Second Reading, House of Lords, 14 June 2006
The UK government, worried that the number of soldiers absconding from the army has trebled since the invasion of Iraq, is legislating to repress this movement in the military.
Clause 8 introduces a new definition of desertion: soldiers who go absent without leave (AWOL) and intend to refuse to take part in a “military occupation of a foreign country or territory” can be imprisoned “for life”.
In this way, the government would expressly legitimise occupation, and with a proposed re-write of the Geneva Convention, would legalise pre-emptive military action – revamping the traditional English imperial policy to serve Bush and his “endless war”.
At the Briefing, John McDonnell MP announced two amendments to Clause 8 that resulted in a two and a half hour debate at the 3rd Reading (22 May) in the Commons on the issues of conscientious objection, sentencing and occupation which had been virtually ignored at the previous Stages of the Bill.
The Bill ignores the injustices soldiers already face -- denied information, labour rights, and human rights.
>> Military personnel are rarely informed of the right to conscientious objection. 
>> Soldiers who refuse orders and want to declare themselves as COs are denied immediate access to the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objectors (ACCO). ACCO hearings may be held after a prison sentence is completed, if at all – disciplinary hearings and sentencing come first. 
>> Soldiers are subject to a form of bonded or indentured labour; they are contractually unable to resign before completing four years service. Those who are 16-18 years old (the main target of recruiters) -- child soldiers -- may be obliged to serve until age 22; if they opt for education, this may increase to age 40! 
>> Soldiers don’t have the right to demand a trial on a serious criminal charge by a jury of 12 people in a civilian court. At the present time they may be tried in front of a board of three officers of a court-martial -- whose pay, discipline and promotion depend upon their success in maintaining discipline. 
>> The Bill may be incompatible with the Human Rights Act which gives everyone the right to a fair and public hearing of any criminal charge by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. 
Michael Kalmanovitz, from Payday, said
“The government would contravene the Nuremberg Principles (1950) which enshrined in international law the responsibility of each of us to refuse to obey illegal and immoral orders from any government.
“The eight-month sentence of Flight-Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith is a warning to military personnel who would act on principle.
The Bill, instead of righting these wrongs, underlined and added to the injustices. When soldiers’ right to follow their conscience is denied, the whole society, starting with women and children in occupied countries, pay with their lives”.
WHAT MPs SAID ABOUT THE BILL (Hansard 22 May 2006)
John McDonnell MP
There is a duty placed on each of us, as individuals in a democratic society — but in particular on soldiers and members of the military — to exercise judgment about whether what we do is right and lawful. I reiterate the point that, whatever debates take place in this or any other Parliament, they do not override that individual duty.
Harry Cohen MP
Subsection 3(c) [military occupation of a foreign country or territory] has the potential to enshrine an illegal occupation.
Alan Simpson MP
In Austria, the maximum sentence for desertion is one year; in France, in peacetime up to three years’; in Germany up to five years'; in the Netherlands, in wartime, a maximum of seven and a half years'; in Poland in wartime up to three years.
Angus MacNeil MP
We should not allow, in any way, shape or form, servicemen to be threatened with life imprisonment if they follow the 1950 Nuremburg principles and their conscience, and question orders.
· Payday has issued a Briefing to the Lords on the Armed Forces Bill 2006. See http://www.refusingtokill.net/UK%20Armed%20Forces%20Bill/LordsBriefingPaper.htm
· For further quotes from around the world see http://www.refusingtokill.net/UK%20Armed%20Forces%20Bill/WhatTheySay.htm
1. See the Peace Pledge Union’s submission by to the Armed Forces Bill Select Committee, January 2006. http://www.ppu.org.uk .
2. Letter to Payday from At Ease, May 2006
3. See At Ease submission to the Select Committee, January 2006. http://www.atease.org.uk.
4. See Gilbert Blade’s submission to the Select Committee, January 2006 http://www.refusingtokill.net/UK%20Armed%20Forces%20Bill/GilbertBladesMemo.htm
5. as above
Payday is a network of men working with the Global Women’s Strike
Invest in Caring not Killing.
website www.refusingtokill.net c