Australian soldiers taking part in coalition operations against Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East have been given a ‘license to kill’, after the government passed last-minute legislation.
The Criminal Code Amendment (War Crimes) Bill 2016, which gives Australian Defence Force personnel power to use lethal force against terrorists outside of direct combat, breezed through the Senate with bipartisan support on Thursday evening.
In a joint statement, Australia’s Prime Minister and Defence Minister said the laws would mean Australia’s Defence Force personnel would be protected from criminal charges if they engage terrorists outside of “direct hostilities”,
“The (legislation) aligns Australia’s domestic law with international humanitarian law and provides legal certainty for Defence personnel fighting terrorist groups in combat zones,” the statement said.
“Until now, Australian domestic law restricted the ADF from targeting key players in IS combat operations who were not directly involved in hostilities.”
“Targeting these individuals could have exposed ADF personnel to prosecution under the Criminal Code, even if their actions were consistent with international law.”
The government said the amendment “eliminates this problem” and brings ADF operations in line with key coalition partners fighting IS in Iraq and Syria.