independent professional staff association for UK forces personnel

Human rights and the 'duty of care' during operations

Do British armed forces personnel have any human rights while on operations?

Senior members of armed forces may take the view that the whole idea of human rights is a dangerous one if it gets a hold on those responsible for discipline and for ensuring those armed forces are able to discharge their duties. I hope that this work will dispel such an idea and show that, in a military context, the relevant norms of human rights law can lead, like those of international humanitarian law, to a control on the actions of soldiers and a resulting enhancement of military discipline.

Prof Peter Rowe,  The Impact of Human Rights Law on Armed Forces

Particularly in discretionary operations we have the legal and moral duty to put soldiers into the field with the equipment that we now know we need.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, CGS, speech to RUSI Future Land Warfare Conference 12 June 2008

Interviewer: Is political correctness hamstringing decision-making on the ground?

Richard Dannatt: I don't like the term 'political correctness' because its a buzzword that conceals real meaning. If we are talking about legislation promoting better health and safety at work, we have to respond to that and work within those constraints. That said, our overall responsibility is the 'duty of care' to our people, and if we allow ourselves to be so constrained by legislation and regulation that we don't train our people in a sufficiently robust way in difficult circumstances, then we have failed our 'duty of care' to our people. So, there is a fine judgement over what to accept of the creeping legislation and what to resist, making the case for exemption or latitude. At the end of the day, my responsibility is to ensure hat we are properly prepared for operations and that is my 'duty of care'.

General Sir Richard Dannatt, interview for RUSI Defence Systems, Summer 2006

... The soldier does not lose all protection simply because he is in hostile territory carrying out dangerous operations. Thus, for example, to send a soldier out on patrol or, indeed, into battle with defective equipment could constitute a breach of Article 2 [right to life].

If I may take a historical illustration, the failures of the commissariat and the failures to provide any adequate medical attention in the Crimean War would whereas the Charge of the Light Brigade would not be regarded as a possible breach of Article 2.

So the protection of Article 2 is capable of extending to a member of the armed forces wherever he or she may be; whether it does will depend on the circumstances of the particular case.

Mr Justice Collins in Smith v Assistant Deputy Coroner for Oxfordshire & Secretary of State for Defence

Tags: Human rights and forces personnel

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