Britain publishes amendment to warcrimes arrest law

1st December 2010, Comments 0 comments

The British government published legislation Wednesday designed to amend a law that puts visiting officials at risk of arrest for alleged war crimes, after the issue strained ties with Israel.

The amendment would ensure that any private arrest warrants issued for an offence under certain international laws, including the Geneva Convention, would first have to be approved by the chief prosecutor.

Israel has postponed all strategic dialogue with Britain in protest at its law on "universal jurisdiction", which has prompted a number of foreign politicians to postpone trips to Britain for fear of arrest.

During a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Israel last month, Foreign Secretary William Hague pledged to act fast to amend the law, which he had previously denounced as "indefensible".

The existing law empowers courts to issue warrants against people accused of offences such as certain war crimes, torture and hostage-taking, even if they were committed outside the country by someone who is not a British national.

The amendment has been tacked on to the newly published police reform and social responsibility bill, which details widespread reform of police forces in England and Wales. It will be debated in parliament in the coming weeks.

"The UK is committed to upholding international justice and all of our international obligations," said a justice ministry spokesman.

"The police reform and social responsibility bill includes a provision requiring the consent of the director of public prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be issued to a private prosecutor in respect of an offence of universal jurisdiction.

"This is to ensure that people suspected of some of the most heinous crimes, wherever in the world they took place, can still be brought to justice in our courts but that these universal jurisdiction cases are proceeded with only where there is a prospect of successful prosecution."

In July, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke told parliament that Britain's commitment to allowing international justice was "unwavering".

But he warned that allowing universal justice cases to proceed without solid evidence risked "damaging our ability to help in conflict resolution or to pursue a coherent foreign policy".

© 2010 AFP

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