I arrived in the UK two decades ago after fleeing torture and violence in my home country, DR Congo. Having found refuge and new citizenship, I rebuilt my life here. In defending refugees and torture survivors around the world, I felt proud when I was named one of the two survivor champions of the British government. Sexual Violence in Conflict Prevention Initiative (PSVI). Today, the same government is proposing legislation that paves the way for those who commit acts of torture to escape justice.
For me and other torture survivors living in Britain, the overseas operations bill has been a punch in the gut. He proposes the creation of a “presumption against prosecution” for members of the British armed forces accused of serious crimes, including torture, committed abroad more than five years previously, except in “exceptional circumstances”. While I welcome the fact that this bill does not include the heinous crime of rape or sexual violence, are we to understand that torture is a “lesser” crime?
In Central Africa, where I grew up, war criminals and torturers have gone unpunished or been appointed to the highest positions of state. I have seen with my own eyes the catastrophic impact of torture – the way it traumatizes families, societies and entire generations. I have also seen what happens when a government begins to reverse an absolute ban on torture.
Accountability and the rule of law are necessary tools of justice for survivors of torture. Not only do these proposals add a legal barrier for us, but they give the green light to torture by states around the world to continue their illegal and inhumane practices. Countries like Sri Lanka, where the scars of civil war run deep and military torture In progress, are already considering adopting the model of impunity proposed by Great Britain.
I am not alone in my reviews. Last week, the House of Lords overwhelmingly voted to amend the bill to ensure that torture will remain a prosecutable crime under all circumstances. The government is suggesting that critics have misunderstood us, telling us that we should “just read the bill”. But it does not stand the test of reason, especially after the strong condemnation of the United Nations, which noted that the bill as drafted makes it “considerably less likely” that British troops will be held accountable for their crimes. worst crimes.
Another troubling aspect of the bill is the damage it does to the British armed forces. The government promises that the bill aims to protect soldiers from “vexatious claims.” British Army veteran and security expert Rob Gallimore says otherwise. “This legislation is designed to protect those who have committed acts in the heat of battle, but torture is a premeditated act – it is an act that is performed when people can hear the shots, but not can’t smell cordite. ”
Other critics, including senior legal figures, have argued that passage of the bill would leave British soldiers vulnerable to prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC), as it would make it impossible for justice to be served. survivors of torture “internally”. Britain was one of the founding members of the ICC, and very recently British candidate Karim Khan was appointed the court’s new chief prosecutor. Embarrassingly, will he have to oversee the investigations into his own country?
Finally, the bill’s arbitrary five-year window for prosecutions concerns me. It took decades for rapists to be convicted after the Bosnian war – there were convictions that came as late as 2011. And consider the women who took years to come forward and speak out against their assaults. sexual, emboldened by the #MeToo movement. More personally, it took me a long time to figure out what happened to me in the country I called home. Why is Britain imposing a time limit on justice?
Not only is this bill morally unacceptable, it risks undermining the UK’s credibility on world leadership and all the work that has been done through the PSVI, by sending a message to the world that the torture is acceptable.
The global ban on torture is currently a legal standard. But it is also threatened by governments around the world which are yielding to rampant authoritarianism. If the Overseas Operations Bill passes in its current form, it will weaken Britain’s international reputation and add it to the long list of countries that tacitly tolerate torture. For the sake of torture survivors around the world, we must resist this bill.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.