Britain: New Armed Forces Bill going through parliament as desertion cases are on the rise

The BBC reported on 28 May that more than 1,000 British soldiers deserted from the Armed Forces since the beginning of the war in Iraq. According to the BBC, "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."

John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington told, Parliament last Monday that the number of absconders had trebled since the invasion with more soldiers "questioning the morality and legality of the occupation".

On Sunday he insisted the numbers of British troops trying to absent themselves from service in Iraq were rising.

"My understanding is there are a lot more seeking to avoid service, through different mechanisms," he said according to the BBC report.

These figures are significant especially in the light of a new Armed Forces Bill going through parliament in Britain now which will introduce new harsh punishments for refusal to be part of an occupation and for desertion in its article 8. The maximum penalty for these offences will then be life imprisonment (see CO-Update No 20, May 2006). The bill went through the third reading in the House of Commons on 22 May. The second reading in the House of Lords is scheduled for 14 June 2006.

Military Families Against the War has an online petition to protest against this new punishments. More information is also available from At Ease, a voluntary organisation providing advice and support to members of the Armed Forces.

Sources: Armed Forces Bill, as brought from the Lords and ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on 30th November 2005, BBC News, 28 May 2006