Cross-party briefing on the Armed Forces Bill

Wednesday, 17 May 2006, 6.30-8pm, Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House
(above Westminster tube, entrance on Victoria Embankment, wheelchair accessible)

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.


Former SAS soldier Ben Griffin

I didn’t join the British Army to conduct American foreign policy.
Ben Griffin, UK refusenik, resigned from the SAS, and refused to go back to Iraq. He will speak at the Briefing.  Also invited are Gwyn Gwyntopher from At Ease1, and Gilbert Blades, a solicitor who defends refuseniks and gave evidence to the Armed Forces Bill Select Committee.


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 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 ignores the injustices soldiers already face:

·      military personnel are rarely informed of the right to conscientious objection. 3 

·      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. 1

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

·      Soldiers are denied information, labour rights, and human rights.  


The Bill was an opportunity to right these wrongs, instead these injustices are being underlined and added to.


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, said:

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.”


No prison for soldiers who refuse to be occupiers


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

Invest in Caring not Killing.

See our website Information: 0207 209 4751


1.         At Ease: a confidential advice, information & counselling service for members of the Armed Forces .

2.         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 . . .”

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

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


        Read more on the UK Armed Forces Bill


        Read the Briefing