Curate wins Human Rights award
Nicholas Mercer, Assistant Curate in Gillingham and Milton-on-Stour in Dorset, has been named Human Rights Lawyer of the Year.
The award was made at a ceremony in London last night (Tuesday 23 November) sponsored by the human rights pressure group Liberty.
Nicholas Mercer served as an Officer in the Army Legal Service until leaving the Army earlier this year in order to enter the ordained ministry. Ranking as a Lieutenant Colonel, he was the senior legal officer of the British Forces during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Almost immediately after the invasion, Lt Col Mercer challenged the treatment of Iraqi prisoners. This triggered a protracted battle with the Ministry of Defence over the conditioning of prisoners before interrogation and the application of the Human Rights Act on the battlefield. In 2006The UK Government conceded that the Human Rights Act applied to UK prisoners overseas. This saw an end to hooding, stress positions, food and sleep deprivation and "white noise" as a precursor to interrogation.
Nicholas Mercer sees it as a matter of profound regret that the UK fought so hard to resist humanitarian law and basic human rights on the battlefield which, in his view, resulted in the death of Baha Mousa.
The condition of prisoners in war has improved immeasurably as a result of this long legal battle in which he has been a key proponent, and it is this which has led to his award.
Aged 48, Nicholas Mercer first sensed a call to the ordained ministry in his 20s. His faith was rekindled as a result of his experiences during the Iraq war and he offered himself following further tours of duty in Bosnia and Cyprus. Having been suspended from duty by the Ministry of Defence as a result of his challenges, he reflected on the significance of this in the light of his faith journey:
‘There was a sense that, after "baptism" - being born again- I was sent into the wilderness as Jesus was, because it was a time of great trial. In some respects, it was like being Jonah in the belly of the whale, whom God wanted and wouldn’t let escape! It’s a mixture of being "sorrowful yet always rejoicing".’
He added: ‘The role of combative lawyer and priest are not necessarily opposed and my stance over the rights of prisoners was as much a theological battle as one about Human Rights. In my view, the Christian teaching that all human beings are created in the image of God is the basis for all Human Rights.’
Nicholas Mercer was ordained deacon in Salisbury Cathedral on 8 October. It is expected he will be ordained priest next June. His Training Minister, Peter Greenwood, the Priest-in-Charge of Gillingham and Milton-on-Stour, commented today: ‘I am delighted that Nicholas has received this award, as a fitting recognition of his courageous work. It has been a joy for us to welcome Nicholas and his family to life in Gillingham and Milton-on-Stour. He has begun his work with great energy and enthusiasm. I am looking forward to see how his particular gifts will grow in his work as a deacon and priest.’
The Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, said, ‘I add my own congratulations to those of many who are delighted that Nicholas Mercer has been recognized in this way. Speaking truth to power takes courage and spiritual discipline, especially when under the many pressures of war. Nicholas stands in the long Christian tradition of treating the enemy honourably, caring for prisoners and defending the weak. As a newly ordained minister in the Diocese of Salisbury he is fulfilling his long term calling. I am pleased that he continues to serve God and his fellow human beings in this way and hope he finds deep fulfillment.’
For Channel 4’s report on Nicholas Mercer’s Campaign, follow: