Britain may help Israeli leaders escape war crimes warrants

Britain expressed its willingness to help Israeli leaders escape war crimes cases in the country.

Britain may help Israeli leaders escape war crimes warrants

Britain expressed its willingness to help Israeli leaders escape war crimes cases in the country that executed a Spanish arrest warrant for former Chilean dictator over the same legal charges.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband revealed that the government would attempt to halt the prosecution of war crimes charges after a UK court issued an arrest warrant for Israeli ex-foreign minister Tzipi Livni over Gaza war crimes. But she cancelled a planned trip fearing being arrested on arrival.

Livni, head of the opposition Kadima party, played a key role in decisions made before and during the three-week offensive.

Israel killed nearly 1500 Palestinians in Gaza offensive and destroyed homes, hospitals, schools, mosques in the besieged land.

But UK FM said the government was determined to protect its "close ties" with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's national security adviser and the Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to convey their dismay.

The procedure by which arrest warrants can be sought and issued without any prior knowledge or advice by a prosecutor is an "unusual feature" of the system in England and Wales, he added.

"The government is looking urgently at ways in which the U.K. system might be changed in order to avoid this sort of situation arising again."

Livni cannot enjoy any immunity as she is an ex-minister. Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, is in the same position.

"Universal jurisdiction"

The warrant marks the first time an Israeli minister or former minister has faced arrest in the UK and is evidence of a growing effort to pursue war crimes allegations under universal jurisidiction.

Lawyers working with Palestinian activists in recent years have sought the arrest of senior Israeli political and military figures under terms of "universal jurisdiction."

This legal concept empowers judges to issue arrest warrants for visiting officials accused of war crimes in a foreign conflict.

Spain and Britain jointly pioneered the universal jurisdiction concept when, in 1998, Britain executed a Spanish arrest warrant for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. British authorities kept Pinochet under house arrest in London until releasing him on humanitarian grounds in 2000.

Activists in Britain long have hoped to capture Israeli officials in the same net that once held Pinochet.

"We cannot talk tough on terrorism and be weak on war crimes," said Chris Doyle, director of a lobbying group called the Council for Arab-British Understanding.

"Parties in Israel must realize there is a consequence to their behavior. For decades they've violated Security Council resolutions and international law with little or no consequence," Doyle said.

Last month, speaking to a group of Israelis, British ambassador Tom Phillips confessed the intention that the government may halt the efforts to seek justice in Britain.

He indicated it was considering curbing courts' powers to issue such warrants for the arrest of Israeli officials.

However, he said Israel's Gaza offensive a year ago, which caused public anger in Britain at the hundreds of deaths of Palestinian civilians, had made it more difficult for the government to legislate for that.

"Arrest warrants"

International human rights bodies, including a commission set up by the United Nations, have said Israeli political and military officials should answer allegations of war crimes over the three-week offensive launched on Dec. 27.

In September the court was asked to issue one for the arrest of Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister, under the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, which gives courts in England and Wales universal jurisdiction in war crimes cases.

Barak, who was attending a meeting at the Labour party conference in Brighton, escaped arrest after the Foreign Office told the court that he was a serving minister who would be meeting his British counterparts. The court ruled he enjoyed immunity under the State Immunity Act 1978.

In 2005, a retired Israeli general, Doron Almog, avoided arrest in Britain by returning to Israel without leaving the plane that had landed him in London after he learned an arrest warrant had been issued against him.

Israel now faces UN war crimes report that particularly details Israel's alleged war crimes during the Gaza offensive.

The report, which was compiled by a panel led by Richard Goldstone, a South African judge, had already been endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council, which sponsored the fact-finding commission.

Israeli forces deliberately attacked civilians, failed to take precautions to minimize loss of civilian life and cited strong evidence Israeli forces committed "grave breaches" of the Geneva Convention, the 575-page report noted.

The firing of white phosphorous shells and the use of high explosive artillery shells were listed as "violations of humanitarian law."

Israel has rejected a cooperation with the Goldstone team or had not allowed it onto its territory.



Agencies

Last Mod: 16 Aralık 2009, 15:38
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