The SDLP is set to lead a cross-party attempt to ban human rights abusers from the British armed forces.
The move has been inspired by the Army’s ongoing retention of Mark Wright and James Fisher, the two soldiers convicted of the murder of 19-year-old Peter McBride in Belfast in 1992.
The parliamentary campaign will be launched at Westminster next week, less than 24 hours before Wright and Fisher’s former commanding officer Tim Spicer is due to speak at a conference in nearby Whitehall.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan will speak at a public meeting of the Article Seven – End Impunity Campaign this Monday 7 November at 7PM in Committee Room 6 of the House of Commons. The Foyle MP is expected to outline plans to seek an amendment to the upcoming Armed Forces Bill, banning individuals convicted of serious human rights violations from serving in the military.
“What we are arguing for is simple,” Mr Durkan said this week. “Nobody who has been convicted of serious human rights abuses – like murder, rape or torture – should be allowed to serve in the British Army. No other European army allows this – and nor should the British Army. Be it on the streets of Belfast or of Basra, the public are entitled to know that killers and torturers are not sheltered in army ranks.”
“I became involved in this campaign because of the case of Jean McBride. Her son Peter was murdered by two Guardsmen, Fisher and Wright. Seeing the killers of her son released early from prison was difficult for her to accept. But what she rightly cannot accept is that they are back in the Army and have served in Iraq. One has even been promoted. It is as if the murder of her son was not even a blot on their record at all. That is more than any family anywhere should have to bear.”
Other speakers at Monday’s meeting will include Labour MP Joan Humble, Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather, solicitor Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, the firm representing victims of alleged human rights abuses by British forces in Iraq, and Paul O’Connor of the Pat Finucane Centre.
Families of soldiers who died at Deepcut Barracks in Surrey are also expected to attend the event.
“We would hope that this would again raise the profile of the McBride case, and bring this right into the heart of the political establishment,” Mr O’Connor said. “There must be a change to British law to make the dismissal of any serious human rights violator automatic. We’re not just looking at the past and at the McBride case. We’re also looking at the future and at cases that almost certainly will arise as a result of the invasion of Iraq. The notion of ending impunity is an idea whose time has come.”
Peter McBride’s mother Jean is expected to travel to London next week, in the hope of confronting Tim Spicer over his backing for Wright and Fisher. Spicer, who is now the head of one of the largest private security firms operating in Iraq, is due to speak at a conference of the Royal United Services Institute on Tuesday, 8 November. Mrs McBride has applied to attend the conference, and the Pat Finucane Centre has called a picket outside the RUSI building, next to the Banqueting Hall on Whitehall, from 1pm on the day of the event.
The decision to retain Wright and Fisher in the Army was last week defended by Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram.
Speaking at a press conference at Deepcut barracks he said: “The judgements made at the time have been tested through the court of law and found not to be wanting but to an acceptable decision.”
[Originally published in the Irish World]