The Overseas Operations Act: What you need to know

The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act is now officially law having received Royal Assent.

Freedom from Torture and Survivors Speak OUT network, working with others, pressured the government into removing some of its worst elements - namely removing torture, war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity from the legal protection that the Act provides.

But this Act still reduces opportunities for torture survivors to seek justice.

We do not believe that there should be a time limit on justice.

The Act has two parts:

Part 1: The Act creates a “triple lock” to prevent criminal prosecutions of British troops for crimes that took place abroad over five years ago.

Initially, this triple lock even applied to torture, war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Outraged and incredulous at the implications for justice, Freedom from Torture, Survivors Speak OUT and allies campaigned relentlessly to have these aspects removed. With your help, we succeeded. Boris Johnson’s government eventually saw sense and removed these most heinous of crimes from the protection of the ‘triple lock’.

Part 2: The Act imposes a six-year limit on bringing compensation claims for personal injury and/or death in relation to events outside the UK involving British troops.

This means Ministers cannot be taken to civil court over unlawful policies and actions revealed after six years or more and denies relief to victims of torture, arbitrary detention and unlawful killing after just six years.

British soldier Iraq

How does this law fail survivors?

Trauma resulting from torture does not have a time limit, and justice should not have a time limit. Torture causes severe trauma, shattering the personality of victims, and distorting their memory.  Devastating and enduring impacts are felt by torture survivors, their families and societies.

Working closely with torture survivors as we do, we know that even talking about experiences of torture requires physical safety and mental strength. It requires trust. Navigating the journey towards justice is difficult and takes time. Six years is nothing on the path to rehabilitation.

We also know first-hand the direct impact that justice has on the healing process. Justice is integral to survivors’ recovery and should not be time-bound.

This law means the UK has chosen to silence victims after six years, leaving them, their families and societies living with trauma and pain.

British soldier Iraq torture

The law remains discriminatory in practice —limiting the rights of foreign victims of British crimes to justice. 

Failure to acknowledge wrongdoing also prevents the military from learning lessons to inform changes that would avoid future crimes.  Even worse, these restrictions will have a disastrous impact on accountability for unlawful policies and actions revealed after six years or more - for example, the “corporate policy” of facilitating extraordinary rendition - and may perpetuate a culture of impunity within the security services.

Putting ministers above scrutiny and therefore beyond accountability is part of a wider pattern with the government of Boris Johnson. We remain vigilant to the constant attempts to erode the human rights that underpin the way of life that we all want to enjoy.

Freedom from Torture and Survivors Speak OUT are very proud to have fought to remove the worst elements of this Act – and to have won. But the Overseas Operations Act remains a stain on the UK’s conscience.