| ||In fulfillment of long-held Conservative party intentions to make it harder to prosecute suspected Israeli war criminals on British soil, the coalition government has announced that it will change the law on universal jurisdiction as part of the new Police and Social Responsibility Bill.|
The amendment to current legislation, which has been described as “dangerous and unnecessary” by Amnesty International, will “require the consent of the director public prosecutions (DPP) before an arrest warrant can be issued on the application of a private prosecutor in respect of offences over which the United Kingdom has asserted universal jurisdiction.”
Following concerted lobbying, then foreign secretary, David Miliband, wrote to the Jewish Leadership Council, pledging his determination to “protect the ties of friendship that bind the UK and Israel” and assured that he would be “reviewing what measures we need to take to stop this sort of situation arising again.”
The Conservatives signalled their intention to seek the same change, both before and after the May general election. Pre-election, they issued an advert in the Jewish Chronicle pledging their support for Zionist goals and promising that “universal jurisdiction will be amended at the earliest opportunity to enable Israelis to visit the UK.”
They failed to clarify that only those Israelis that were accused of suspected war crimes faced problems visiting the UK – no others.
Upon entering government, the pledge was re-iterated by William Hague at a Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) fringe event at the Conservative party conference in October.
The announcement of the amended legislation on universal jurisdiction shows how much the government is willing to risk for the sake of Israel.
First, it can only destroy the credibility of the UK in matters of Middle East policy and our purported adherence to the rule of law. The Middle East policy of the UK is already viewed by many as being biased in favour of Israel and we are thought to be complicit in Israel’s persistent infringement of international law.
In addition, the amendment will serve to undermine the role of Britain as part of the Quartet negotiating for peace in the Middle East. Breaking the Silence, Amnesty International and the Goldstone Report, produced by the UN Fact Finding Mission on Gaza, have all extensively documented the war crimes committed by Israel and Hamas during the bombardment of the Gaza Strip last winter. How can the UK present itself as an impartial broker in peace negotiations when we take a selective view on when to uphold justice? If the situation was reversed and it was a Hamas or Palestinian Authority official that had entered Britain accused of complicity in war crimes, would we be seeing the amendment?
At home, British Muslims will find it difficult to comprehend how they can be exhorted to “do more” to aid the fight against terrorism and radicalisation while, at the same time, the policies of the government itself give succour to the narrative employed by violent extremists that our foreign policy is biased and that we are hypocrites when it comes to justice.
Kate Allen, the UK director of Amnesty International, was reported yesterday to have warned:
“Unless a way of guaranteeing a means of preventing suspects fleeing can be built into the proposals, then the UK will have undermined the fight for international justice and handed war criminals a free ticket to escape the law.”
“This sends exactly the wrong signal. It shows that the UK is soft on crime if those crimes are war crimes and torture. It risks introducing dangerous delays that could mean people suspected of the worst imaginable crimes are able to flee from justice.”
Last month, Prime Minister David Cameron, in a speech to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, reminded everyone that “Britain’s moral authority in the world depends on showing that we uphold our values.”
Is demonstrating to the world that our principles can be selectively discarded really the value that will restore Britain’s moral authority?
The House of Commons will still need to vote to bring this bill in. 53 Liberal Democrats are reported to have signed EDM 502, tabled in December 2009 by Jeremy Corbyn, which reads:
“That this House believes that universal jurisdiction for human rights abuses is essential as part of the cause of bringing to justice those who commit crimes against humanity and will oppose any legislation to restrict this power of UK courts.”
Senior members of the Lib Dems – among them the now business secretary, Vince Cable, and deputy leader, Simon Hughes – signed the EDM. It remains to be seen whether they will remain firm to their commitment to opposing the amendment, or whether – as we have seen on so many issues – they will renege.
If you oppose the amendment to the law on universal jurisdiction, you may wish to contact your local MP and demand that they vote against the change. You can find details of your local MP by following this link.
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