New Spanish code on military conduct

Respect for human rights to form basis for new code on military conduct

A new code on military conduct which is due to be approved by the Spanish executive will be based on the respect for human rights as set out in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Carme Chacón, the Spanish Minister for Defence, made the announcement yesterday saying that the new code would be approved in a few days time. The new code replaces the one drawn up by Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado in 1978 just before the Spanish constitution came into effect following the death of Franco and the transition to democracy.

The new code is applicable to all members of the Spanish armed forces regardless of their rank. It is also applicable to all soldiers regardless of whether they are taking part in an aggressive operation or peacekeeping operations.

For example, the new code states that any form of humiliation or abuse of detainees or prisoners of war is unacceptable. In situations of conflict it also states that members of the armed forces are obliged to give special protection to vulnerable groups such as women and children.

Most of the principles in the new code are already contained in international conventions to which Spain has already subscribed. The difference is that now they are all contained in a code which will be approved by parliament and which will be taught in military academies.

The new code of conduct gives soldiers the right to object to orders given by their superiors if they believe it goes against the code although paradoxically they can only do this once the order has been carried out if not carrying out the order would jeopardize a mission.

In a veiled reference to Israel’s military operations in Gaza Chacón said that the new code of conduct included two principles of maximum importance. The first was to make a distinction between combatants and non-combatants in an attempt to avoid civilian victims and the second was the principle of limitation which excludes the use of certain weapons such as cluster bombs which Israel has used in its attacks on Gaza and which more than 100 countries are in favour of banning.

The code also emphasises the use legitimate force in a proportional manner and also protects cultural monuments and religious buildings. In addition, it states that members of the armed forces should be familiar with the customs and culture of the areas they are deployed in and that they should collaborate with civilian authorities and humanitarian organizations.

One of the most significant aspects of the new code of conduct for the armed forces is the consequences that commanders of the armed forces will have to face if troops under their orders commit offences of genocide or abuses against the local population.

The punishments for this are included in the Military Penal Code which is also due to be reformed soon.

Chacón said that the new code of conduct maintained certain deeply rooted traditional aspects of the armed forces. She also stated that the government was now looking at the elaboration of a future law on the rights and duties of members of the armed forces.