This week the Coalition Government had the first reading of the proposed Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill (on 1st December 2010). As part of this Bill, the Coalition Government is attaching a clause that will make it harder to arrest war crimes and torture suspects while they are in the UK under our universal jurisdiction laws.
This clause is completely unnecessary as the current law on universal jurisdiction already makes it very hard to secure the arrest of a war crimes suspect and the proposed change will make it practically impossible. Martin Linton, Director of Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East, outlines four core reasons why the Government is wrong to make changes to the application of universal jurisdiction in the UK:
- Requiring the prior consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) will make it very unlikely that any war crimes suspect visiting the UK will ever be arrested. By the time the DPP has taken a decision, the suspect will have left the country. If we want the law to be effective, we should leave it to a judge. We know they can act quickly.
- It’s very hard to get an arrest warrant under the current law. There have to be affidavits from victims; substantial evidence against the suspect that, if uncontradicted, could lead to a conviction and it has to be heard by a specialist senior judge in Westminster. There has been no case of anyone has been arrested on “flimsy” evidence or for “politically motivated” reasons.
- Universal jurisdiction has no effect on our ability to broker peace negotiations in the Middle East or anywhere else. Some ministers and all diplomats are immune from arrest as of right. Others can be given
- We should not let the government of another country bully us into changing an ancient liberty of citizens to seek an arrest under universal jurisdiction. We use universal jurisdiction to arrest Bosnians, Serbs and Rwandans suspected of grave crimes. How can we use it against them, but not allow it to be used against Israelis?
Over 70 Labour MPs are supporters of Labour Friends of Palestine & the Middle East and over 110 MPs, including 71 Labour and 31 Liberal Democrat, have signed a parliamentary motion promising to oppose any legislation to restrict universal jurisdiction. Among the Liberal Democrats are former leaders Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell and party deputy leader Simon Hughes.
The second reading if the Bill is yet to be announced but it is vital that LFPME supporters lobby their MP to vote down the proposed changes. To find out more on how you can help, please click here.