I came to the UK two decades ago after fleeing from torture and violence in my home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After finding a new sanctuary and citizenship, I rebuilt my life here. Campaigning for refugees and torture survivors around the world, I feel proud to be named as one of the UK government’s two Survivor Championships. Initiative to Prevent Sexual Violence in Conflict (PSVI). Now, the government is proposing laws to pave the way for torture offenders to avoid justice.
For me and survivors of torture living in the UK, the Overseas Operations Bill was a gut punch. It proposes making a “presumption against prosecution” against members of the UK armed forces charged with serious crimes, including torture, committed abroad. more than 5 years earlier, except for “exceptions”. Although I welcome that this bill does not cover the gruesome crime of rape or sexual violence, do we understand that torture is a “lesser” crime?
In central Africa where I grew up, war criminals and torturers were not punished, or assigned to the highest positions of state. I have witnessed the dire effects of torture – the way it hurts families, society, and generations. I also saw what happens when the government starts rolling back to an absolute torture ban.
Accountability and the rule of law are essential tools of justice for victims of torture. These proposals not only created additional legal barriers for us, but also gave torture states everywhere to continue their illegal and inhumane activities. Countries like Sri Lanka where the scars of civil war and military torture are happenning, thought of adopting a punishment model proposed by the UK.
I am not alone in my criticism. Last week, the House of Representatives voted with a majority to amend the Bill to ensure that torture would remain a prosecutable crime under any circumstances. The government argued that the critics were wrong, telling us we should “just read the bill”. But it succumbed to the test of reason, especially after strong condemnation from the United Nations, which noted that the bill drafted made it “fundamentally less likely” to the British military. held accountable for their worst crimes.
Another worrying aspect of the bill is the damage it inflicts on the British Armed Forces. The government promised that the bill was meant to protect soldiers from “offensive claims”. British army veteran and security expert, Rob Gallimore, says the opposite. “This law was designed to protect those who committed acts in battle, but torture is a pre-meditated act – it’s an act done while everyone can hear the sound. gun, but can’t smell the stench of fabric. “
Other critics, including senior legal figures, have argued that passing the bill would make British soldiers more vulnerable to prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC), as it would make public the conspiracy. Reason cannot be given to survivors of torture “on the spot”. He is one of the founding members of the ICC, and very recently, the British candidate, Karim Khan, has been appointed as the new chief prosecutor of the Court. Shamefully, does he need to oversee the investigations of his country?
Finally, the arbitrary 5-year deadline of the bill to prosecute bothers me. Rapists took decades to convict after the Bosnian War – there were convictions in late 2011. And consider women who took years to report sexual assaults. of them, encouraged by the #MeToo movement. More personally, it took me a long time to come to terms with what happened to me in the country I used to call home. Why does Britain set a time limit for justice?
This bill is not only morally unacceptable, but also risks damaging the UK’s reputation for global leadership and all work that has been done through PSVI, by sending a message to the world that torture is acceptable.
The global torture ban is legal right now. But it is also being threatened by governments around the world that are giving in to rampant authoritarianism. If the Overseas Operations Bill was passed in its current form, it would undermine Britain’s international standing and add it to the long list of countries that tacitly tolerate torture. For the sake of torturing survivors everywhere, we must go against this bill.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial views of Al Jazeera.