The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights releases a timely statement that reminds the world that justice for Israeli crimes won’t be forgotten:
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.”