International feminist peace and human rights organisations write to UK PM and FM to maintain universal jurisdiction December 25, 2009

December 22, 2009
Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Foreign Secretary David Miliband

Re: Maintain Universal Jurisdiction and Enable the Prosecution of War Criminals

We, international feminist peace and human rights organizations, are writing to you following recent reports regarding your government’s intention to undermine the principle of universal jurisdiction, a decision that will diminish the power of the international community to intervene in situations of severe human rights violations and crimes against humanity.

Universal jurisdiction is an essential legal device, symbolizing the responsibility of the global community to prevent crimes against humanity wherever they occur, to bring justice to the victims and to protect the citizens of the world from tyranny, persecution and institutionalized violence. The United Kingdom played an instrumental role in establishing these principles in the aftermath of the Second World War, and should commit itself to protecting and maintaining them. The British government’s intent to undermine universal jurisdiction sets a dangerous precedent in
defending criminal government officials rather than the victims of their crimes.

As feminist organizations, we regard your attempt to undermine universal jurisdiction as an act of collaboration with violence against women. Socially disadvantaged groups, such as women and ethnic minorities, are more severely affected in situations of war and conflict. Women and girls
are particularly susceptible to poverty, displacement and marginalization in times of war, and are more frequently subjected to domestic violence, sexual abuse and rape.

As Palestinian, Israeli and international women, we call on the international community to pressure Israel to follow the recommendations of the Goldstone Report. Today, one year after the Israeli assault on Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, Israel has yet to conduct a thorough, independent and reliable investigation of the war crimes it has committed. The international community is obligated to act in order to ensure that Israel will comply with international human rights and humanitarian law. Issuing arrest warrants against Israeli officials responsible for war crimes against the Palestinian people, among them Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni, is an important means to this end.

The right of national courts to prosecute foreign war criminals for atrocities committed abroad is a central enforcement mechanism in international law. Undermining their ability to do so will be a devastating blow to international human rights and will hinder attempts to bring just peace to the Middle East and to other conflict regions around the world.

We urge you to maintain and secure the important principle of universal jurisdiction, despite political pressures by war criminals and their allies.

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