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U.K. Changes Universal Jurisdiction Law to Provide Safe-Haven to Suspected Israeli War Criminals

Ref: 95/2011

 

On
Thursday, 15 September 2011, the United Kingdom modified its universal
jurisdiction legislation as a direct result of political pressure exerted by
the Government of Israel, following the issue of arrest warrants for Doron
Almog in 2005, and Tzipi Livni in 2009. The legislative change grants the
Director of Public Prosecutions the power to veto the issue of arrest warrants
for universal jurisdiction offences. This is a purely political move designed
to block the arrest of war criminals from ‘friendly’ countries.

 

The
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) affirms that this effort intends to
grant impunity under the veil of law. Rather than fulfilling its obligation to
pursue accountability, the United Kingdom has enacted legislation establishing
an effective ‘safe-haven’ for war criminals.

 

States’
obligation to prosecute suspected perpetrators of international crimes – such
as war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, and genocide – is a norm of
customary international law. It is also a direct obligation arising from
Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which the United Kingdom is a High
Contracting Party.

 

Universal
jurisdiction exists to ensure that those suspected of committing international
crimes do not escape accountability. It grants States the jurisdiction to
prosecute such individuals, regardless of where the crime was committed.
Universal jurisdiction aims precisely to ensure that there can be no safe
havens for suspected international criminals.

 

In
changing the law, the United Kingdom has chosen to pursue impunity and
protectionism, not accountability. The U.K. is subject to a duty to apply the
criminal law uniformly: the amendment could breach both that
obligation, and the UK’s legal obligations arising from the ratification of,
 inter alia, the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and the
UN Convention against Torture.


PCHR notes that this move evidences a blatant double standard and hypocrisy on
the part of the Government of the United Kingdom. The U.K. recently voted to
refer the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court, ensuring that
Qadaffi and members of his regime are held to account. The Government has
repeatedly issued public statements highlighting its commitment to justice, the
rule of law, and the spirit of the Arab spring.


However,
at the same time, they have chosen to disregard the rule of law with respect to
‘friendly’ States. The United Kingdom has chosen to place Israel, and
individual Israelis suspected of committing international crimes, beyond the
reach of the law. Such actions are an insult to innocent victims around the
world who rely on international law for protection, and justice in the event of
a violation.

 

In
condemning the United Kingdom’s actions, PCHR Director Raji Sourani stated that
“the U.K. has violated its obligation to uphold the rule of law and voted for
the rule of the jungle. This hypocritical action shows a clear double standard.
The UK has chosen to reward the criminal and ignore the victim.”