13:10, May 19 57 0 theguardian.com

2019-05-19 13:10:04
Crimes by soldiers must be prosecuted

Those who advocate immunity for the armed forces (Mordaunt says troop amnesty should extend to the Troubles, 16 May) proceed on the premise that abuses by the British military are always confined to “a few bad apples” and that such cases are rigorously prosecuted by those in command. This overlooks the reality of British military history, which shows that such abuses can be systemic, and condoned by those in charge.

During litigation which ended in 2018, the English high court heard a detailed, well-documented exposition of abuses perpetrated by security forces and the British army during the emergency in Kenya in the 1950s. As counsel who represented 24 test claimants, randomly selected from a cohort of 20,000, we can confirm that the facts were shocking; there was cogent evidence of widespread abuses committed by British soldiers and security forces under the control of the British army. This occurred during interrogation known as “screening”, designed by the administration as an integral component of an intentionally punitive policy of forced removal, detention and forced “villagisation” visited upon over 1 million Kenyans – the vast majority of whom were passive. The screening policy attracted criticism from all shades of political and religious opinion, yet searching independent investigation was stoutly resisted.

Kenya is but one example. The threat of exposure and prosecution, no matter how long after the event, is a necessary safeguard. The army cannot be left to police itself.

Bryan Cox QC St Paul’s Chambers, Leeds, Mary Ruck Byrom Street Chambers, Manchester

It is impossible for Penny Mordaunt to insulate British soldiers from prosecution for war crimes that may have taken place more than a decade ago. Article 29 of the Rome statute of the international criminal court, to which the UK is a party, states that “crimes within the jurisdiction of the court shall not be subject to any statute of limitations”. If our courts fail to prosecute alleged war crimes of British soldiers, the UK has agreed that the ICC can do so.

William Schabas

Professor of international law, Middlesex University

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