War Crimes Statute

Letter published in The Times, 19 March 2020. 

Sir, We wish to express our opposition in the strongest terms to any statute of limitations for war crimes (report, Mar 18) on three grounds. First, Geneva conventions and protocols do not have a time limit attached for the very good reason that the battlefield requires the strictest discipline and accountability for soldiers. Second, the passing of a statute of limitations would give the green light to rogue nations to follow suit. It does not take much imagination to envisage another nation citing its own statute of limitations when being pressed about war crimes in the future. Third, to take this step would potentially undermine the whole edifice of international law on the battlefield. The British Army is rightly regarded as one of the finest armies in the world. It does not need special laws to “protect” it. In our opinion this is deeply retrograde step by the British government.

Colonel David Benest, former commanding officer, 2 Para, South Armagh 1994-97; Lieutenant-Colonel the Rev Nicholas Mercer, former senior military lawyer, HQ Ist (UK) Armoured Division, 2003 Iraq war