The UK Government are planning imminent changes to the law, to avoid any future attempts to prosecute suspected war criminals, Israeli or otherwise.
This would see the UK reneging on its international treaty obligations, particularly those under the Fourth Geneva Convention which commit signatories to ‘seek out and prosecute persons suspected of war crimes wherever and whoever they are, whatever their status, rank or influence, against whom good prima facie evidence has been laid.’ Such an attempt to undermine the judiciary’s independence and integrity must be rejected in the strongest terms.
Foreign & Commonwealth Office Minister Ivan Lewis and Foreign Secretary David Miliband, have stated that Britain may consider changing its laws to avoid any future attempts to prosecute suspected war criminals, Israeli or otherwise.
One year after the end of the last round of hostilities in Gaza and southern Israel and both the Israeli and Palestinian sides have completely failed to investigate well-documented violations of international law, including war crimes that were committed by their forces.
The UK should not be working against steps, now long overdue, to ensure that the victims obtain justice, truth and reparations (including restitution, rehabilitation, compensation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition). They should be working to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. They can show their commitment to international justice and human rights by not altering the law on universal jurisdiction
What is Universal Jurisdiction?
The ability for national courts to prosecute serious human rights violations committed anywhere in the world.
As genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, extrajudicial and enforced disappearances are crimes under international law; all states should investigate and prosecute the crimes before their national courts.
Recognizing that impunity exists mainly when the national authorities of countries affected by the crimes fail to act, it is important that the national criminal and civil justice systems of all countries can step in to prosecute the crimes on behalf of the international community and award reparations to victims.
Amnesty International campaigns for all governments to empower their national courts to take on this important role by enacting and using legislation providing for universal jurisdiction. Such legislation should enable national authorities to investigate and prosecute any person suspected of the crimes, regardless of where the crime was committed or the nationality of the accused and the victim and to award reparations to victims and their families.
In doing so, governments will ensure that their countries cannot be used as safe havens by the worst criminals.
Amnesty International’s legal memorandum, Universal Jurisdiction: the duty of states to enact and implement legislation, documents more than 125 states that have universal jurisdiction over at least one of the crimes. The organization is campaigning for all states to enact universal jurisdiction legislation over all six crimes.
Since the end of the Second World War, more than 15 countries have exercised universal jurisdiction in investigations or prosecutions of persons suspected of crimes under international law, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Senegal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States of America and others, such as Mexico, have extradited persons to countries for prosecution based on universal jurisdiction.