ForcesWatch comment


ForcesWatch comment

With the stationing of British troops in Brunei, the UK government has a powerful hand to play in challenging the new anti-LGBTQ+ law imposed by the Sultan.

This week, despite international outrage, the authoritarian Sultan of Brunei made it law for LGBTQ+ people to be flogged or stoned to death for having sex. Queer sex has long been outlawed in Brunei as in other countries; this new law further imperils and oppresses an already suffering minority.

Whether or not executions will be carried out remains to be seen - the last execution in Brunei took place in 1957, when the country was still a protectorate of the UK. Of course, people will certainly be driven further underground and kept repressed by the law, which will have severe psychological and personal implications for generations to come.

Celebrities and human rights organisations are calling for people to boycott Brunei-owned hotels and businesses; but the UK Government has a far more powerful hand to play. 

While working to improve its treatment of minorities and present itself as an inclusive and progressive employer, the British military is protecting the Sultan as part of its project of projecting global power.

The Sultan of Brunei is a billionaire ally to the UK. He was himself trained at the British Army’s officer training facility at Sandhurst, and is currently kept in charge of his oil-rich south-east Asian nation with the help of 2000 UK troops.

Every five years since 1984, when the small state became both independent and a member of the Commonwealth, agreement has been signed between the UK and Brunei to keep UK military personnel garrisoned in the country.

democracy, equality

ForcesWatch comment

ForcesWatch raises awareness about the physical, mental and moral risks faced by military personnel, so we are pleased to share the Lost Heroines campaign by specialist lawyers Bolt Burdon Kemp. The campaign effectively highlights some of the issues facing women in the military – with a particular focus on sexual harassment. See our blog on the recent Liberty report that slammed serious problems with sexual harassment in the military and showed how women in the forces continue to be let down by a second-rate justice system.

Bolt Burdon Kemp’s new campaign sheds light on this still pervasive problem in the British Armed Forces. Namely, that 'servicewomen are significantly more likely than servicemen to experience all three forms of sexual harassment investigated [within the Armed Forces]: generalised sexualised behaviours, targeted sexualised behaviours and particularly aggravated behaviours such as sexual assault.'

There’s still work to be done

As the military’s own records state, the percentage of female military personnel who said they had ‘an experience involving targeted sexualised behaviours that made them feel particularly upset’ increased from 13% in 2015 to 15% in 2018. It’s disheartening to see the numbers regress rather than improve.


ForcesWatch comment

With the recent reporting about relaxed rules of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, we take a quick look at some of the key questions around the allegations of abuse and killing by UK troops.

A key debate to emerge from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq surrounds so-called ‘historical allegations’, or litigation involving different degrees of abuse and in some cases killing, by UK troops, of civilians in those countries.

These historical allegations cases are highly complex. Understanding them has been hindered by hyperbolic press coverage and the intentional weaponisation of the issue by some parties for ideological and political gain, including to pin back vital human rights laws.

Liberty’s recent ‘Military Justice: Second-Rate Justice’ provides much needed clarity to this emotive and often misunderstood topic. It argues powerfully that far from being driven by a concern for soldiers, attempts by the Government to leave human rights treaties are self-serving and will very likely harm both victims of war and soldiers in the long run.

ForcesWatch decided to take a quick look at some of the key questions around the historical allegations debate.

Are the claims of abuse by UK troops simply ‘made up’?

No. Abuses and killings certainly took place. The scale can be contested but the fact that abuses took place and that UK troops killed civilians can not. Former senior British Army lawyer Lieutenant Colonel Nicholas Mercer branded claims that, for example, the Iraq allegations were spurious as ‘nonsense.’

'The Ministry of Defence has already paid out £20m in compensation to victims of abuse in Iraq. This is for a total of 326 which by anyone’s reckoning is a lot of money and a shocking amount of abuse,' Mercer wrote in The Guardian in 2016.

'Anyone who has been involved in litigation with the MoD knows that it will pay up only if a case is overwhelming or the ministry wants to cover something up.' he added.

Even in the Al Sweady case, centred on a 2004 battle between UK troops and Iraqi insurgents, and in which all the most serious allegations were rejected by an official inquiry, it was recognised that the Geneva Convention was breached on multiple occasions.

Likewise in the case of Marine A, in which a Royal Marine executed a wounded insurgent on camera while quoting Shakespeare. The murder conviction was later reduced to one of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

The cases which have come to trial may only be the tip of an iceberg. Recent reports suggest there have been a number of cases in which suspected enemy observers were killed. Some of these cases allegedly involved UK troops placing previously captured enemy weapons on bodies in an attempt to justify the killings.


ForcesWatch welcomes the Second Rate Justice report launched today by Liberty as part of their campaign on soldiers’ rights and the launch of their new Human Rights Helpline (1) for the UK Armed Forces.

Liberty are doing fantastic work in pushing for personnel to have adequate and equal legal protection, and in defending the Human Rights Act.

The failings in the military justice system that they detail increase our own concerns that young and vulnerable recruits are misled by manipulative military recruitment advertising and are not aware of the myriad ways in which the military system may fail them.

Not a system where women are ‘listened to.’

Recent military recruitment advertising has strategically targeted young people with videos claiming that the military will take better care of women, LGTBQI+ and BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) communities than civilian employers. The military’s record on safeguarding rights and welfare is, however, woefully inadequate - and they recruit the youngest soldiers in Europe.

A still from one of the Army's 2018 recruitment adverts, 'Will I be listened to in the Army'. British Army/YouTube.

‘There is something very badly wrong with the way in which the armed forces investigates and prosecutes sexual crime.’ (p.53)

In Will I be listened to in the Army (Army recruitment video, 2018), an animated woman is small, vulnerable, overlooked and abused in the civilian world. She is then rescued by the military who empower her and give her a voice.

Yet Liberty’s ‘Military Justice’ report raises very serious concerns about sexual offending in the armed forces. The overwhelming majority of sexual offending in the forces is perpetrated against women, by men. (p.52) The vast majority of these offences are investigated by the Service Police, in the UK. (p.52) The conviction rate is shocking. In the last three years, there were 99 rape allegations reported, 48 of which got to court martial, and just 2 resulted in conviction. (p.53) This is a conviction rate of 4.2%, compared to 32-46% (depending on the age of the perpetrator) in the civilian system - which as Liberty say, is ‘bad enough.’ (p.53)


ForcesWatch Comment

Today Sky News reported that preparing for a no-deal Brexit is the ‘highest priority’ of the Ministry of Defence, and that ‘war games’ will be held by the armed forces in the coming days before a cross-government exercise at the end of February.

The military is preparing for disruption from blockages of goods to civil unrest, with soldiers making up the bulk of 3,500 personnel on standby for no-deal duties.

The most extreme reporting of potential military responses to a no-deal, from numerous media channels and newspapers, has suggested that martial law could be declared in the event of civil unrest.

While it is widely reported that Brexit planners are looking at the possibility of martial law, there have been no reliable projections yet about the likelihood of it occurring.

Given the sensationalism attached to some of the more click-hungry reportage we have seen, we thought it worth examining what martial law would actually entail.

A militarised response to social unrest is depicted in the latest Army recruitment campaign video.

Martial law, which is generally defined at the military taking control of the normal functions of the state, is more commonly associated with authoritarian and repressive regimes in the 'developing world'.

Recent examples of large-scale military intervention in the running of nation-states includes those declared in areas of the Ukraine and the Philippines in 2018 and Turkey in 2016 following an attempted coup.

Any UK iteration of martial law would almost certainly be based on the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act, which contains a number of provisions for times of national crisis such as that which some fear may occur in the wake of an exit from the European Union.


military in society