Cross-party briefing on the Armed Forces Bill

Wednesday, 17 May 2006, 6.30-8pm, Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House


The Armed Forces Bill 2006, a major redrafting of military law, will be in the Commons on 22 May. Yet it has gone through committee stage with hardly a whisper in the media and a deafening silence even from politicians who opposed the Iraq war. 


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.  Before Members of Parliament vote on this Bill, they should know the content of it, and the serious objections to it.


Section 8 would introduce a new and tougher 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. 


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”. 


In this way, the government contravenes the Nuremberg Principles (1950) which enshrines in international law the responsibility of each of us to refuse to obey illegal and immoral orders from any government.1  The eight-month sentence of Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith is a warning to military personnel who would act on principle.


The Bill ignores the injustices soldiers already face -- denied information, labour rights, and human rights. 

·       Military personnel are rarely informed of their right to conscientious objection. 2 

·       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. 3

·       Soldiers are subjected 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) may be obliged to serve until age 22; if they opt for education, this may increase to age 40! 4

·       Soldiers are deprived of the right to demand a trial on a serious criminal charge by a jury of 12 people in a civilian court – that is with no service connections.  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 own maintenance of discipline. 5

·       The Bill may be incompatible with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (now incorporated into the Human Rights Act 1998), which entitles everyone to a fair and public hearing of any criminal charge against them by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. 6


The Bill was an opportunity to right these wrongs; instead these injustices are being underlined and added to.  When soldiers’ right to follow their conscience is denied, the whole society, starting with women and children, pay with their lives. 



Barry Ross, Gulf war vet:  

“No doubt this will be counter-productive and send more AWOL soldiers even more underground and for longer. As a Gulf veteran and someone who deserted because of PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] I understand the pressure. Police will hunt you down as if you were a mass murderer. I served six months in MCTC [Military Correction & Training Centre] Colchester for the same thing. It was a nightmare. Afterwards to prove a point I was sent to Ireland. Went AWOL again. Can't believe Blair and John Bully Reid are treating our Armed Forces this way. It must be stopped. What next, the firing squad just to enforce discipline?” 7


Ben Griffin, UK refusenik, resigned from the SAS, and refused to go back to Iraq.

" A soldier could face life imprisonment . . . even if that occupation is illegal and instigated by a foreign 'ally', or if the conduct of the occupation is criminal and against the will of the indigenous people of that country."


Osman Murat Ülke, CO from Turkey who won his right in the European Court not to be repeatedly jailed for his refusal, said of Section 8:

A soldier is still a human being and not a mechanical extension of the military apparatus. No contract, no oath and no law can change this.


Rose Gentle whose son Gordon was killed in Iraq, and who now campaigns with Military Families Against the War:

“It’s heartbreaking for a parent when a son stands up for his rights and may be locked away for life.  It’s not just him, it’s his whole family that’s sentenced.”


Un Ponte per... Italian NGO in support of soldiers who speak out against military occupation:

“Italy is a country which is taking part in the illegal occupation of Iraq, despite Article 11 of its constitution which ’repudiates war as a means of resolving international disputes‘. Therefore we consider the stand taken by British soldiers like Ben Griffin and Malcolm Kendall-Smith against the Iraq war to be a shining example which we hope will be followed by Italian soldiers.”


René Burget, Union Pacifiste Française, section of War Resisters International:

“Nobody must be forced to bear arms; everybody has the duty to refuse to kill!”


Shimri Zameret, one of 500 high school refuseniks who was repeatedly jailed and then won his right to refuse to serve the Israeli occupation:

"I sat 21 months in jail because I refused to serve in the Israeli Army. I know what it means for a young man to be taken away from his friends, family, dreams. I know that it wouldn't have mattered if it was 421 months. If I had ignored my conscience I would have lost my humanity."


Matan Kaminer, wih Shimri, one of the “five” who very publicly won their right to refuse:

“Soldiers are common people who pay the highest possible price for the imperial policies of economic, military and political elites. Resistance inside the military, whether among conscripts or volunteers, is vital for the struggle against imperial war and for world democracy. Israeli refusers stand in solidarity with our British sisters and brothers.”


No prison for soldiers who refuse to be occupiers  

1.  Nuremberg Principles, No. 4: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a  superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law . . .”

2.   See submission by the Peace Pledge Union to the Armed Forces Bill Select Committee, January 2006. .

3.  Letter from At Ease to Payday, May 2006

4.   See At Ease’s submission to the Select Committee, January 2006.

5.   See Gilbert Blade’s submission to the Select Committee, January 2006

6.   As above.

7.   From our petition on line


Payday is a network of men working with the Global Women’s Strike

Invest in Caring not Killing.

website call: 0207 209 4751 email: