Gaza War Crimes Charges: Britain to Stem Arrest Warrants for Israel's Leaders

Article excerpt

Pro-Palestinian activists, who say Israel committed Gaza war crimes, had been seeking arrest warrants from Britain's lower courts for senior political and military leaders planning visits to the country.

Britain is preparing to shut down a legal mechanism that

pro-Palestinian activists have used to issue arrest warrants for

Israeli military and political officials planning to visit the

country - a move that has compromised diplomatic relations between

the two countries. The activists, who say that Israel committed war

crimes in Gaza, have worked through Britain's lower courts to seek

legal retribution.

The warrants have had "a profound impact" on Anglo-Israeli

relations, both politically and militarily, says Stephen Pollard,

editor of the Jewish Chronicle newspaper. The ability of Israeli

personnel to come to Britain and share antiterrorism expertise has

been hampered, for example. Last week, four senior officers from the

Israel Defense Forces canceled an official visit because the British

government could not guarantee that they would not face arrest.

"This has also started to affect more than just diplomatic

aspects," he adds. "Charities can't bring in guest speakers

from Israel, for example, because many of them, senior politicians

for example, would also be the prime targets of those seeking these

arrest warrants."

Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister of Israel and a member of its

war cabinet during the conflict in Gaza last year, was forced to

withdraw from a planned appearance at a convention of the Jewish

National Fund in London last month after learning that a warrant had

been issued by Westminster Magistrate court for her arrest.

During a visit to Israel this week, Britain's attorney general,

Baroness Scotland, said that the government was looking at ways to

prevent future such occurences.

It was "determined that Israel's leaders should always be able

to travel freely to the UK," she added.

It's now expected that the British government will move - as

early as this month - to introduce measures that would give

Britain's attorney general some form of veto over arrest warrants

in private prosecutions against foreign political leaders.

Controversial principle: universal jurisdictionAt the heart of the

issue is the principle of universal jurisdiction - a concept in

international law that holds that any country can prosecute any

crime, regardless of the nation where it took place and the

nationality of the accused.

Craig Barker, a specialist in international law and diplomatic

immunity at the University of Sussex, says that the Britain- Israel

controversy was emerging as the extension of jurisdiction was

becoming a major issue internationally.

"While it might seem to be a really good idea that anyone who

commits an offense anywhere can be prosecuted somewhere else, in

reality, there are very few examples of this universal jurisdiction

being applied," he says. …