THERE is a remarkable book first published back in 1999 that still sits on my shelves at home to this day. It’s entitled Crimes Of War: What the Public Should Know.

It is, in effect, an A-Z guide on war and the laws governing it. It was compiled primarily as a tool for journalists reporting conflicts and resource for organisations faced with the onerous task of holding accountable those responsible for the conduct of armed conflicts worldwide.

That the book’s appearance came in the immediate wake of the wars in the former Yugoslavia speaks volumes. Conflict had returned to the European continent then and was fought seemingly without respect for the rules of warfare that had been drafted in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Holocaust.

Nothing underscored that more than the July 1995 massacre of more than 8000 Bosniaks in and around the town of Srebrenica during the Bosnian War.

A cursory glance at Crimes Of War’s alphabetical contents page highlights, under the letter C, Civilians, Illegal Targeting of; or under the letter E, Ethnic Cleansing; or under the letter T, Terrorism Against Civilians.

And so the book goes on, giving a comprehensive and compelling guide to warfare using the framework of international humanitarian law.

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It was, and still is, as the US writer and journalist Chuck Sudetic described it at the time, “essential reading for those world leaders who seem to have calibrated their moral compass at the joystick of a video game”.

And goodness knows there’s no shortage of political leaders right now with such a mindset and wayward compass. The barrelling towards war with Iran, egged on by the likes of US National Security Adviser John Bolton, is but one terrifying example.

I couldn’t help thinking of Crimes Of War this week too on hearing UK Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt pledging to end what she called the “chilling” threat of probes into past offences by British troops who served in Northern Ireland.

The recently appointed Mordaunt went somewhat off-script in her first major speech by announcing she believed soldiers who served during the “Troubles” should also be covered under “amnesty” proposals for alleged offences committed more than a decade ago.

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There was surprise in a number of quarters at the Defence Secretary’s remarks, not least given that such plans to date do not include Northern Ireland, which is being considered under a separate consultation on legacy issues by the Northern Ireland Office.

Now, I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally I find the whole notion of amnesty on historical prosecutions over alleged war crimes a dangerous route down which to travel.

Right now across the world we are witnessing an increasing willingness on behalf of Western governments and political leaders to turn a blind eye to war crimes and breaches of international law. Rather than heeding conventions and treaties, the prevailing mood and intention, it seems, is in tearing them up.

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Give governments an inch on the issue of culpability over war crimes and before we know it they will take the proverbial mile in the prosecution of armed conflict, almost inevitably at the expense of civilians and non-combatants.

That Mordaunt is fully expected to reaffirm a controversial commitment to opting out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in future wars where the government deems it appropriate is yet another sign of the dangerous path the UK seems hell-bent on going down.

Under the rules of the Council of Europe, which oversees the Strasbourg-based institution, derogating from the ECHR in times of war or public emergency is permitted.

But as human rights activists point out, most legal claims that emerge out of such conflicts are not simply vexatious, as Theresa May claimed in 2016. Moreover, they often relate to offences that cannot be derogated from, such as torture.

How can it be right that a country can opt in and out of the ECHR depending on whether it is at war? The short answer, of course, is that it’s far from acceptable.

Human rights are not just for peacetime and shouldn’t simply be abandoned because the drums of war start beating. Indeed, one could argue that it’s especially important at such times that human rights be monitored, defended and if necessary legislated for all the more rigorously.

What also sticks in the craw for me when it comes to the UK Government’s proposed amnesty on prosecutions is the way it dresses up such moves up as a patriotic way of protecting “our boys and girls”.

Having been embedded with British and American soldiers and marines in warzones like Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve no doubt as to their courage on the battlefield.

Equally though I’m under no illusions that breaches of international law and war crimes do sometimes happen, and must not be ignored or glossed over.

As Afghanistan veteran, journalist and author Joe Glenton, writing in The Independent, pointed out earlier this week, the UK Government is undoubtedly indulging in sleight of hand right now in this regard.

For these current moves over amnesty have just as much to do with protecting the British state and making sure politicians are not held accountable for the UK’s future overseas military adventures as they have in safeguarding our service personnel from vexatious lawsuits.

As Glenton colourfully sums it up invoking the old army proverb, “s*** rolls down the hill” when it comes to a soldier’s work and his punishment.

Rarely, if ever, does it blow back on our politicians, who take us into wars, some of which are all but illegal.

If you have any doubts on that score, then just glance over the cast list of modern times, from Margaret Thatcher during the Falklands War, to Blair, Bush and their cohorts over Iraq and David Cameron over Libya.

Currently, across the world, atrocities are routinely being committed. Now is not the time to go easy on war criminals, be they combatants, civilians or indeed the political leaders who instigate conflict supposedly in our name.

Now more than ever is the time to promote an understanding of the universally agreed rules of international humanitarian law, to provide a legal and moral compass to protect essential rights in a time when they are under particular strain. Now is the time to re-read Crimes Of War: What The Public Should Know.