At least 1,000 UK soldiers desert

More than 1,000 members of the British military have deserted since the start of the Iraq war, the BBC has learned.

Figures for those still missing are 86 from 2001, 118 from 2002, 134 from 2003, 229 from 2004, 377 from 2005, and 189 for this year so far.

The news comes as Parliament debates a law that will forbid military personnel from refusing to participate in the occupation of a foreign country.… Read more

Fox urged to uphold conscientious objection in Armed Forces Bill

Defence Secretary Liam Fox is being urged to uphold the right of armed forces personnel to be given a discharge if they develop a conscientious objection.

The call comes as Fox presents the Armed Forces Bill to the House of Commons today. Forces Watch, a network concerned with ethical issues around the armed forces, says that the Bill is an opportunity for politicians to demonstrate their commitment to the human rights of forces personnel.

They add that the process of declaring a conscientious objection must be brought “out of obscurity”.

In theory, the law grants troops the right to apply for discharge if they develop a conscientious objection. But Forces Watch pointed to evidence that many personnel are unaware of this right and that the procedures for applying for it are unclear and poorly publicised.

The issue came to the fore last month, when Michael Lyons, a medical worker in the navy found that he could no longer participate in the war in Afghanistan after becoming aware of what was happening there.

His application for conscientious objection was turned down and he only discovered he had the right to appeal by consulting At Ease, an organisation which advises serving personnel.

Lyons gave a strong defence of his position at a hearing of the Advisory Committee on Conscientious Objection (ACCO) last month.… Read more

Parliament urged to end UK’s recruitment of ‘child soldiers’

Children and young people’s rights groups are calling for a change in the law to end the recruitment of 16 and 17-year-olds into the UK armed forces. Their call comes ahead of the second reading of the Armed Forces Bill, which the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, will present to the House of Commons tomorrow (10 January).

The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, together with War Child, UNICEF UK, the Children’s Society, and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England today insisted that the Bill be amended to end the “outdated practice” of recruiting soldiers aged under 18.

Amnesty International UK and the United Nations Association have given their backing to the call.

So far, Liam Fox and the Ministry of Defence are resisting the pressure to raise the age of recruitment to 18, but some question how long they can keep to this position.

The UK is one of a diminishing number of countries that still recruit under-18s into the armed forces, and one of fewer than 20 countries which recruit from the age of 16. Other countries recruiting from this age include Iran, North Korea and Zimbabwe.… Read more