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Black Lives Matter: British military needs to do ‘soul searching’ over racism within its ranks

‘We owe it to our black, Asian and minority ethnic servicemen and women ... to listen and to continue to make change happen’

Kim Sengupta
Defence Editor
Thursday 11 June 2020 16:42 BST
General Sir Nick Carter, chief of the defence staff, said judging by ability must be ensured
General Sir Nick Carter, chief of the defence staff, said judging by ability must be ensured (PA)

The Black Lives Matter protests and the accompanying debate has led to “soul searching” among senior officers on whether enough was being done to address the issues, according to defence officials.

In a letter to members of the army, royal navy and the RAF, General Sir Nick Carter said recent events “have brought the issues of racism and discrimination sharply into focus. We owe it to our black, Asian and minority ethnic servicemen and women, who will be feeling concerned at the moment, to try to look at this from their perspective, to listen and to continue to make change happen”.

The chief of defence staff said that although the armed forces is a “rich mix of faiths, colour, gender and creeds reflected in British society”, it must be ensured that people are judged on their abilities and “not for what they look like or where they come from”.

The military must also, he said, drive through changes for the better when necessary rather than just follow guidelines.

Black, Asian and ethnic minority (Bame) personnel make up just over 8 per cent of the total armed forces – with a target to increase that proportion to 10 per cent this year. Ethnic minorities accounted for around 14 per cent of the UK population, according to the last census in 2011.

For the past four years the armed forces ombudsman annual report has repeatedly highlighted that ethnic minority personnel are significantly more likely to report bullying, harassment and discrimination than their white counterparts.

It was reported this year that just over 17 per cent of racially aggravated crimes investigated by military police over the past five years resulted in guilty verdicts at court martial. Out of 35 investigations launched over the past five years, only six people have been found guilty.

Emma Norton, head of legal casework at the civil rights group Liberty, said: “These stark figures suggest large numbers of Bame service personnel are suffering in silence and feel unable or unsupported to report allegations of racism and pursue complaints.”

An MoD spokesperson had said in response to the reports: “Racism has no place in the military and anyone found to be behaving in such a way can expect to be disciplined, discharged or dismissed.We are committed to stamping it out and have a range of measures to ensure that this issue is tackled.”

Defence officials point out that the UK military has won a number of awards over the years for being among the best employers for racially diverse personnel in the country.

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