Gaza War Crimes Charges: Britain to Stem Arrest Warrants for Israel's Leaders
Quinn, Ben, The Christian Science Monitor
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
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
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. …