One test for the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government could be how it approaches the human rights of armed forces personnel. Some commentators distrust the whole idea of human rights behind the barrack gates, or while deployed: 'You can't have human rights in the heat of battle'.
Yet both parties spoke while in Opposition of renewing and reaffirming the Military Covenant, and the talk now is of enshrining elements of the Military Covenant in the next Armed Forces Bill. Against this background, there could be mixed views on the government benches on learning that the Council of Europe earlier this year adopted a recommendation to all 47 member states about the human rights of armed forces personnel.
On 24 February 2010, the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers adopted recommendation no. (2010)4 on human rights of members of the armed forces.
The recommendation is to each of the member states of the Council of Europe - including the United Kingdom - for implementation in their own countries. The recommendation has no binding legal force, but the fact that it reflects the common view of all 47 member states gives it strong moral force that may also influence case-law at the European Court on Human Rights. The recommendation was effective upon its adoption, and is scheduled to be reviewed in 2012.
The United Kingdom was represented on the expert working group which revised the recommendation. BAFF was also actively represented by their Chairman, Douglas Young, as a member of the EUROMIL observer delegation which also included colleagues from representative military associations in Poland, France, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.
The recommendation does not represent 'best practice' - the OSCE Handbook on the Human Rights of Armed Forces Personnel offers some examples of that - but rather the lowest common denominator of what might at a push be acceptable to each of the Council of Europe member states from Iceland to the Caucasus. It applies to countries which still operate conscription, as well as those which do not, and this is inevitably reflected in the drafting. Lengthy as the document is, it does deal with what BAFF would call 'grass roots' issues such as medical care and accommodation. The recommendation should form a useful part of the background to the Armed Forces Bill and Reaffirming the Covenant.