Freedom from Torture scoops Campaign of the Year at SMK National Campaigner Awards

20 May 2022 News

Freedom from Torture and the Survivors Speak OUT network has won the Campaign of the Year award at the Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK) National Campaigner Awards, for its work on removing torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity from the impunity provided by the Overseas Operations Bill. 

“Stop Torture Impunity” was co-created with torture survivors and involved a coalition of NGOs, former generals, bishops, legal experts, and MPs. Thousands of people supported the campaign, signed petitions and engaged with their local MPs. 

Polling carried out by Freedom from Torture showed that the campaign helped raise awareness of torture among the UK public, resulting in more people believing that torture is not morally permissible. 

The Overseas Operations Bill, which received Royal Assent in April 2021, is a piece of legislation that aims to provide stronger legal protections for British armed forces personnel and veterans serving on military overseas operations. 

It originally provided a presumption against prosecution whereby armed forces personnel would have been shielded from allegations of war crimes, such as torture and murder, perpetrated abroad five years earlier. 

The government said the purpose of the bill was to “tackle vexatious claims and end the cycle of re-investigations against our armed forces”.

However, following heavy criticism from human-rights campaigners and peers, the government amended the bill to exclude war crimes, torture, genocide and crimes against humanity from the five-year statute of limitations.

SMK Awards judge Ben Hyman said: “It is a brilliant example of a campaign that really delivered against its objectives through a comprehensive, brave and ambitious approach. The breadth of the work was incredible.” 

Kolbassia Haoussou MBE, director of survivor empowerment at Freedom from Torture, said: “We must all make sure that we never come this close to decriminalising torture again.”  

Steve Crawshaw, policy and advocacy director at Freedom from Torture, said: “It is an extraordinary honour to win this award. The result of this campaign was a reminder of how seemingly unwinnable victories can sometimes be won – with enough energy and enough allies along the way.” 

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