ForcesWatch comment


ForcesWatch and Ambrose Musiyiwa

We interviewed poet and campaigner Ambrose Musiyiwa for Peace News on militarisation in Leicester and how local people are acting to resist militarism.

A soldier gives a machine gun demonstration to a child in Leicester city centre. PHOTO: Ambrose Musiyiwa/Civic Leicester.  See more photos.

ForcesWatch: Hi Ambrose! Thank you for putting on such a fantastic event in Leicester at the end of last year as part of the Leicester Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, ‘This is Belonging: Challenging militarism at home and abroad’. We had a lively and informed discussion, and it was great to be able to take part. Could you tell us a bit about how Leicester for Peace is responding to the event’s discussions, and any further comments you have?

Ambrose Musiyiwa: Firstly, thank you for taking part in ‘This is Belonging: Challenging militarism at home and abroad’. Your contribution and the work you and ForcesWatch are doing at a national level informs us and ensures we are aware of what is happening nationally. Your work informs the decisions and actions we take at a local level. We appreciate how supportive of local groups you and ForcesWatch are.

Leicestershire police routinely deploys visibly-armed white men to police low-crime and ethnically-diverse environments.

‘This is Belonging’ looked at both how the army is targeting children in Leicester and other deprived communities around the country, and how communities in Leicester and beyond are resisting the militarisation of school, public space and childhood. Participants who took part in the event alongside ForcesWatch included Leicester city council; the Leicester National Union of Teachers Section of the National Education Union (Leicester NUT Section of the NEU); and Penny Walker and Sue Taylor (Leicester for Peace).

Sarah Levitt, Leicester city council’s then head of Arts and Museums talked about some of the ways in which the army is in contact with children locally, the framework in which the contact has been taking place, and Leicester Festivals and Events’, and Leicester city council’s position on the recruitment of children into the army.

Leicester NUT Section of the NEU secretary, Joseph Wyglendacz, talked about how the National Union of Teachers opposes the army’s presence in schools and the targeting and recruitment of children by the army.

Penny Walker and Sue Taylor presented the ‘Leicester Charter on the reduction of the militarisation of young people’. The charter currently asks Leicester city council to do two things: namely, to ensure that no child under the age of 18 is allowed to handle weapons at army recruitment drives in Leicester, and for Leicester city council to ensure that notice is given if the army is going to have a recruitment drive in Leicester so that parents, carers, children – and others who are concerned about the recruitment drives – can avoid them.

After the meeting, and before her retirement, Sarah Levitt passed on the concerns that were raised at the event to sir Peter Soulsby, the mayor of Leicester, and Penny, Sue and others met the mayor, reiterated the concerns that are in the city around the armed displays, the recruitment drives and how the army is letting children play with guns in public spaces in the city.

The presence of heavily-armed white men at Diwali feeds the hostility against people who are perceived to be Muslim”

They also presented the Leicester Charter to the mayor who agreed with the charter and said he would ask the army to make sure that no one who is not old enough to join the army is allowed to handle weapons at recruitment drives in Leicester and that the army give sufficient notice each time it holds a recruitment drive in Leicester so that concerned parents, children and carers can avoid the recruitment drives if they wish to do so. 

ForcesWatch: At the launch of the ‘Take Action on Militarism’ pack in October last year, you spoke powerfully about the militarisation of the police force in Leicester. What have you noticed happening around you, and how does it affect local communities? 

Ambrose: Leicester is one of the first cities outside London where people who would describe themselves as ‘White British’ make up less than 50 percent of the population. People who would describe themselves as ‘White British’ are still over-represented in the power structures of the city. That over-representation is markedly evident within the ranks of Leicestershire police where the bulk of officers are white and the bulk of armed police officers are white men.

Leicestershire police routinely deploys visibly-armed [white] men to police low-crime and ethnically-diverse environments like the Riverside Festival, Diwali and the Leicester Caribbean Carnival. Because of the city’s demographics and because of the ethnic and gender make-up of the armed officers, the deployments bring into sharp focus inequalities in the city that are based on race and gender… inequalities that people here have previously appeared to tend to ignore.

On the one hand, it is good that these inequalities are now in focus because, hopefully, something can be done about them. An example of this can be seen in the significant, concerted and commendable efforts that Leicestershire police is making to build a police force that reflects the community it serves and which is informed by an equally diverse panel of advisors who are drawn from that community.

On the other hand, given the history of institutionalised racism and violence that Britain has, continuing to deploy visibly-armed [white] police officers to low-crime environments like the Riverside Festival, Diwali and the Leicester Caribbean Carnival, heightens tensions and pushes communities apart.

The festivals that we have in Leicester do not warrant the deployment of visibly-armed police officers. There is nothing that happens at the festivals that cannot be handled by unarmed officers who are part of the communities they serve.

The deployments are part of a campaign by Leicestershire police to normalise the presence of armed police officers on the streets of Leicester; to normalise the deployment of armed police officers to environments that can be handled by unarmed officers; and to change the way communities are policed, and move away from ‘policing by consent’ to ‘policing by force’.

Such changes must not be allowed to happen without public scrutiny. They also must not be allowed to happen without a risk assessment or impact assessment that considers the basis of the changes and the harms the changes cause to the way communities relate to each other and to the city’s institutions.

Leicestershire Police is also pushing very hard around what it is calling ‘Protect the Protectors’. As a way of doing things, ‘Protect the Protectors’ is problematic because it services an ‘Us vs Them’ dichotomy between the police and the public the police are supposed to be working with. The campaign also services the sense that the safety and comfort of the police is more important than that of the public.

Taking that campaign to its logical conclusion will lead to a militarised police force that dehumanises and sees the people it comes into contact with as a threat. Taken together with the guns that the police want officers to carry makes us worried that in the coming years, we will see the police in Leicester start discharging weapons at the people they come into contact with more.


ForcesWatch Comment

Over the Easter weekend, reports surfaced of proposals to inject schools, particularly those in disadvantaged communities, with a ‘military ethos’. Former education minister Robert Goodwill has been tasked with drawing up a report for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on the benefits of ‘military ethos’ in schools. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has suggested this could include ‘military academies’ in disadvantaged areas.

This is nothing new; similar initiatives have been proposed and developed since 2012. Indeed, we have seen a decade-long promotion of military interests in schools as well as in wider society. While we and others have been monitoring and resisting this, challenging militarist narratives beyond the margins of public debate has proved very difficult. It is vital that mainstream debate starts to challenge military advances into education within an ethics and child rights framework.

Ethos refers to the guiding beliefs, standards or ideals of a group or community. It is the origin of the modern word ‘ethics’ which involves evaluating and interrogating what is morally right or wrong. Rather than receiving an ethos from an external institution, schools should have an ethics approach which develops the critical thinking capacities of pupils, and their own ‘ethos’ centred on learning, innovation, creativity and well-being. An overarching and subjective ‘military ethos’ within a school is likely to exclude and alienate some, not least because it presumes agreement with a divisive institution.

If we are going to talk about ethos, we should consider the ethics of the military becoming involved with the education system in order to further its own interests.


ForcesWatch comment

Members of the Scottish Parliament have agreed to produce a report into military visits in Scotland’s schools.

The move – announced at a sitting of the Public Petitions Committee last week – came as a direct response to our petition on the issue, along with Quakers in Scotland.

This seeks greater transparency, guidance and parental consultation around military visits to Scottish schools.

In a new submission to the Committee ahead of the hearing we analysed MoD figures, provided under a freedom of information request, which showed that 770 visits were made by the armed forces to Scottish schools between April 2016 and March 2017.

Nearly 60 per cent of these were made by the Army and 75 per cent of the visits promoted a career in the military. 

Now a report into the matter is due to be published later this year which we hope will make substantial recommendations given the weight of evidence behind the petition.

Rhianna Louise, ForcesWatch’s Education and Outreach worker. said: "We welcome the promised Public Petitions Committee report on armed forces visits to schools.

“It is vital that the report's safeguarding proposals take into consideration the evidence submitted by the Scottish Youth Parliament, Connect (formerly Scottish Parent Teachers Council), Together (the Scotland Alliance for Children's Rights) and Scotland's Children's Commissioner.

“Each of these stakeholders has testified to the current lack of adequate safeguards protecting young people from the military having unbalanced access to the education system for recruitment purposes.

“We are now hoping for an informed report, showing that child rights and welfare take precedence in Scotland over the military's desire to promote its image and to make up for adult recruit shortfalls with child recruits.

“Crucially we do not see this as a political matter but rather but something which relates to duty of care and the welfare of all children in Scotland’s schools.”

Eileen Prior, executive direct of Connect told CommonSpace that the parliament’s plans to report on the issue was “good news”.

Two MPs (Edward Mountain and Maurice Corry of the Conservatives) who are not members of the Committee attended the hearing and were given permission to speak, though not take part in decision making.

They both sought to close the petition as did their party colleagues Brian Whittle and Michelle Ballantyne who are PPC members. However, Angus MacDonald of the SNP said “attempts to shut down this petition are premature” and added that there is a “need for this Committee to compile and publish a report to give justice to the petitioners as well as to the Armed Forces.”

This proposal was backed up by his SNP colleague Rhona Mackay who said she had “serious concerns” about military visits, adding “we should certainly have a report and we need to get further information.”

In conclusion the Convenor of the Committee, Labour’s Johann Lamont, said a report was a necessary step in order to “explore further what those safeguards might look like” and “test the argument” that schools may be “railroaded in” to allowing military visits.


ForcesWatch comment

Three cases involving over 40 claimants and 16 Army instructors have collapsed, raising a number of serious concerns about the way the investigations and trials were conducted within the military justice system.

The result is that serious allegations into abuse of the youngest army recruits have not been tested, and justice – both for the claimants and for the defendants – has not been served.

This unsatisfactory outcome leaves a climate of uncertainty about the incidences themselves, and more broadly about how capable the army is of dealing with abuse claims.

There is a special duty of care necessary for people under 18, the age of the claimants at the time of the alleged incidents. Allegations of this kind, which involve the human rights of minors, demand a far higher standard of investigation than that conducted by the RMP in this case.

The failure of the military to adequately investigate and prosecute the cases will strengthen calls for abuse cases to be dealt with by civilian authorities, particularly if they are serious, involve multiple incidents or claimants, or involve recruits under the age of 18.

The progress of the trial

The cases first came to public attention last year, three years after the incidents of abuse were alleged to have taken place.

 The non-commissioned officers faced 31 charges, including 25 of ill-treatment and six of battery, dating from June 2014. The charges alleged that the recruits were slapped or punched, spat at, grabbed by the throat, forced to eat manure and had their faces submerged in mud by the army instructors. Two of the cases involved allegations of incidents which took place on bayonet training at Kirkcudbright in Scotland and one case involved allegations of incidents that occurred in the accommodation at the Army Foundation College, Harrogate (AFCH) in North Yorkshire. AFCH is in fact the training establishment for most of the Army's under-18 recruits (junior soldiers).

The three trials began in February at the Military Court Centre in Bulford but were subject to reporting restrictions so could not be commented on in the media.

On 28 February, after prosecution arguments and witnesses for the first case had been heard in court, the prosecution dropped many of the charges, which resulted in the number of defendants being reduced from 10 to 5. The defence counsel then argued that the failure to interview potential key witnesses for the defence, as well as the long delay between the alleged incidents and trial amounted to an abuse of process and they applied for the proceedings in the first case to be 'stayed'. The judge agreed to this and made a long statement condemning the investigation by the Royal Military Police (RMP). The five defendants were released on the grounds that a fair trial was no longer possible. See a summary of the abuse of process ruling below.

At the following hearing, the case involving seven defendants was dropped and all charges were dropped, but the court was told that the final case, involving two defendants and 8 charges, would go ahead.

Last week we heard that the Service Prosecuting Authority were reviewing the case and a statement would be made by the judge on Monday morning.

Yesterday the prosecutor (a different prosecutor, as the original one had been taken off the case) offered no evidence in the case and the defendants were found not guilty. What we don't know is why no evidence was offered for this final case, or why there was a new prosecutor.


ForcesWatch comment

Today is the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers. Today also sees the start of a court martial of 16 instructors at Army Foundation College Harrogate which trains young recruits aged under 18. They are charged with numerous counts of bullying and abuse.

Today, February 12th, is Red Hand Day: the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers.

ForcesWatch are part of the "Zero under 18" or the #MakeIt18 campaign, which aims at the universal ratification of the UN's Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

Although the UK has ratified this treaty, and although we do not deploy soldiers until they are 18, we are under heavy human rights and child right based criticism for continuing to recruit from 16.

In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) reviewed the UK’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and made a number of important points which we are still bringing to the attention of the UK government today.

Areas of concern raised by the UN CRC were:       

  • The State party maintains the wide scope of its interpretative declaration on article 1 of the Optional Protocol, which may permit the deployment of children to areas of hostilities and their involvement in hostilities under certain circumstances;
  • The minimum age for voluntary recruitment as 16 years has not been changed and child recruits makes up 20 per cent of the recent annual intake of United Kingdom Regular Armed Forces;
  • The Army Board endorsed increasing the recruitment of personnel under 18 years old to avoid undermanning, and children who come from vulnerable groups are disproportionately represented among recruits;
  • Safeguards for voluntary recruitment are insufficient, particularly in the light of the very low literacy level of the majority of under-18 recruits and the fact that briefing materials provided to child applicants and their parents or guardians do not clearly inform them of the risks and obligations that follow their enlistment;
  • In the army, child recruits can be required to serve a minimum period of service up to two years longer than the minimum period for adult recruits.

And the recommendations made by the Committee were that the UK:

  • Consider reviewing its position and raise the minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces to 18 years in order to promote the protection of children through an overall higher legal standard;
  • Reconsider its active policy of recruitment of children into the armed forces and ensure that recruitment practices do not actively target persons under the age of 18 and ensure that military recruiters’ access to school be strictly limited;
  •  In recruiting persons under the age of 18, strengthen its safeguards required by article 3 of the Optional Protocol, in order to ensure that the recruitment is genuinely voluntary and based on fully informed consent of the recruit and their parents and legal guardians, and ensure that recruitment does not have a discriminatory impact on children of ethnic minorities and low-income families;
  •  Ensure that the minimum period of service applied to children who enlist into the army is no longer than that applied to adult recruits.

The UK is flying in the face of each recommendation made by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. It continues to recruit under the age of 18, despite evidence that early enlistment is connected with detrimental health outcomes and long-term deprivation.

It continues to actively target under 18 year olds through marketing campaigns and recruitment activities in schools, which are neither adequately balanced nor scrutinised. It is actively targeting low-income families and children of ethnic minorities as a matter of policy, and manipulative, glamourised and targeted marketing campaigns undermine voluntary informed consent. 

Raising recruitment to 18 and achieving a higher legal standard protecting children would be no small thing.

It would set an example to other countries who have yet to protect children from involvement in armed conflict. It would place greater incentive on minors thinking of enlisting into the military, and their educators and caregivers, to gain better and further qualifications beforehand, which would greatly enhance their social mobility prospects.

recruitment age, risks