By Abdel Bari Atwan
The British government is currently working on the introduction of new legislation that will take away from the British judiciary system its power to issue arrest warrants against foreign politicians and senior military officers accused of committing war crimes, if they happen to visit Britain. It is expected that New Labour, which colluded in the war against Iraq, will present legal amendments based on fabrications to Parliament this week, hoping for quick approval prior to the General Election in the coming months.
The British Department of Justice, headed by Jack Straw, a former Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, wants to transfer the power to issue such warrants from the British courts and judges to the Attorney General, who is another political appointee. The pretext for this interference in the judicial system is the protection of foreign politicians, especially those of our "strategic allies".
At the moment, of course, there are no such politicians who are accused of war crimes likely to visit Britain except those from Israel. The proposed amendments to the law have been made in order to comply with demands made by the Israeli government backed by Britain's Zionist-Israel lobby. The catalyst for the British government's move was the attempt by pro-justice lawyers to have Tzipi Livni – Israel's Foreign Minister at the time of the invasion of Gaza a year ago – arrested and charged with committing war crimes. She was due to visit Britain for a Zionist fund-raising programme in December.
Israel's demands have will, it seems, change laws designed originally to enable Nazis to be apprehended and brought to justice. Indeed, using the same principle of "universal jurisdiction", Israel caught, tried and executed Adolf Eichmann in the early sixties. In fact, Israel still uses that principle to track down surviving Nazis to avenge the victims of the Holocaust.
More than seventy parliamentarians have signed a petition to the British House of Commons condemning severely the government's attempts to remove this right from the judiciary. Their signatures were joined by dozens of peers, actors, writers and senior lawyers, all of whom believe that the government's proposal is an affront to justice and the values of Western democracy.
The wording of the petition made their feelings clear: "We were shocked by the suggestion made by Ivan Lewis, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, and by David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, to amend British laws to avoid any future attempts to prosecute those accused of committing war crimes, Israelis or non-Israelis, before British courts. We reject any attempt to undermine the independence of the British courts and any judge who has sufficient evidence to prosecute war crime suspects should have the power to demand their arrest."
A well-known British lawyer, John Hardy, confirmed that removing the right to arrest suspected war criminals from the courts actually cancels the legal rights of civilians. It is a political decision that is a blatant and serious interference in basic civil rights. What Mr. Hardy could have said, but didn't, is that the state of Israel and its war criminals appear to be above all laws, and that their protection is more important than the rights of British citizens and the independence of their judicial authority. Thus a model of justice for the whole world, and a source of great pride for the British, is going to be diminished for political expediency and to satisfy the demands of a foreign state.
Baroness Scotland, Britain's Attorney General, expressed this fact very clearly during a speech at the University of Jerusalem a couple of weeks ago, saying, "Our government is looking urgently for ways and means to enable it to change the judicial system in order to avoid arresting any Israeli official. Israeli officials should always be able to visit Britain without any obstacle."
If the suspected war criminals were Arabs, or from any other third world country, especially countries that are not "strategic allies" of Britain and the United Stated, it is impossible to imagine proposals to amend the law. On the contrary, they would be applied without delay. However, it looks as if Israelis suspected of war crimes are about to get a mandate from Britain, and all other Western countries, to break as many international laws as they want, kill as many men, women and children as they think is necessary for their "security", using civilians as human shields in the process (as indicated by the UN's Goldstone Report), in the secure knowledge that they won't be brought to account for their actions.
Israel's political blackmail and the humiliating British government's subservience, may lead to Britain becoming a third world country, losing some of its most civilised – and civilising – advantages. Changing laws due to external pressures, in the service of a foreign country not that of your own country, without adequate examination and consultation, normally only happens in countries that do not have an independent judiciary and the principle of separating the judiciary from the executive.
The laws under which war criminals can be brought to account did not originate in Britain; they were agreed and adopted by the "free world" in the aftermath of World War Two. Any change by Britain would not, as a matter of course, amend the principle of universal jurisdiction which is accepted by other countries. Such amendments are contrary to the spirit and practicality of the Geneva Conventions and international human rights treaties.
The free world fought for justice for the victims of the Nazis and took the necessary steps to provide justice by apprehending and trying war criminals. The purpose was to make sure that such heinous crimes could not be repeated, so there is more than a smell of hypocrisy about Britain's intention to change the law for people the victims of whose aggression are Arabs and, predominantly, Muslims. By being selective about who is to be brought to justice, Britain signals a breakdown in morality and values. The irony in this, of course, is not only that these laws were designed to bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes against Jews – and out of which sprang the creation of the state of Israel as a "homeland" for the Jews – but also that Britain has a historic moral and legal responsibility towards the Palestinians. Despite this, the British government appears to be ready to allow Palestinian blood to be spilt and gives the criminals the go-ahead to continue with the blood-letting.
Hence we have the situation whereby the British government, instead of apologising for the calamity of what happened in Palestine in the late forties and seeking redress for the victims, continues the criminality by providing political and legal protection to the people who plundered the land of Palestine, wiped off the map more than 500 Palestinian towns and villages and created a refugee crisis that gets worse by the year.
In supporting the parliamentarians and others in their efforts to persuade the British government to abandon its proposals to provide a legal safe haven for alleged criminals, i suggest that if any of the current legislation needs to be amended, it should be in order to improve the laws and their application, not the reverse.
Source: London-based Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.