AMNESTY (UK): Save our war crimes legislation 5Mar10 March 8, 2010
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.
UPDATE: 5 MARCH 2010
No change in Universal Jurisdiction before election – Amnesty continues to oppose any changes to our war crimes legislation
Amnesty International thanks the thousands of AIUK supporters, NGOs, MPs and lawyers who have taken action to stop the UK Government weakening our war crimes legislation. Amnesty is deeply concerned that changes to the law would undermine the capacity of victims of serious international crimes to hold accountable alleged perpetrators who come within the UKs jurisdiction.
Following huge public opposition, the Government has announced a consultation on the issue until April 6, thus ensuring there is unlikely to be any change to legislation this side of the election.
Amnesty welcomes the public consultation, to which Amnesty International and other partner non-governmental organisations plan to contribute with a detailed and vigorous defence of the current law.
Amnesty also welcomes the statements by the Prime Minister in the Daily Telegraph on 4 March that ‘it is our moral duty to ensure that there is no hiding place for those suspected of the most serious international crimes’, that ‘Britain will continue to take action to prosecute or extradite suspected war criminals – regardless of their status or power’ and that ‘Britain will always honour its commitment to international justice. The police here remain ready to investigate cases; the Crown Prosecution Service to bring them; the courts to hear them’.
However, Amnesty remains deeply concerned that the UK government, under pressure from foreign governments, is still planning to remove the ability of victims to act quickly to prevent the flight of a person suspected of the worst possible crimes.
Private prosecutions are possible under almost every legal system, whether common law or civil law, around the world. These act as a safety valve when the police, prosecutors or investigating judges fail to act speedily or fail to act at all. In all such instances, these decisions are still subject to judicial review to avoid any possible abusive prosecutions.
There is no evidence whatsoever – and neither the United Kingdom government, foreign governments nor commentators have cited any – that the long-standing procedure for magistrates to issue arrest warrants have been abused.
Indeed, magistrates will only issue an arrest warrant if the person making the application can make out a prima facie case (sufficient evidence, unless rebutted, that the suspect has a case to answer). This is exactly the standard set forth in the 1949 Geneva Conventions for a state party to obtain the extradition of a person suspected of war crimes and which any state seeking extradition from the United Kingdom also has to meet.
For these and other reasons to be developed in the submission during the consultation, Amnesty International continues to oppose any weakening of this essential tool for justice.
Amnesty will continue to campaign on this issue. We have always said that any changes to existing law and procedure should not undermine the capacity of victims of serious international crimes to hold accountable alleged perpetrators who come within the UKs jurisdiction and we urge you to continue taking action on this vital matter.
Please call on the Prime Minister to state clearly that the government will not change the law on universal jurisdiction, and will continue to allow victims of war crimes to seek justice in British courts.