Monday, February 06, 2006

Making Britain safer for war criminals

The day before it reported a renewed effort to look for World War II Nazi criminals among east European collaborators brought to Britain, the Guardian carried a report that the British government is considering changes to the law, to make the country safer for criminals. I hope this is just an ironic co-incidence.

The changes would stop individuals from seeking international warrants for the arrest of people suspected of serious human rights abuses. The Guardian report says the government confirmed that Israeli officials have lobbied for changes in the law, after some Israeli military officers had to avoid this country for fear they might be arrested.
(UK considers curbing citizens' right to arrest alleged war criminals Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, Friday, February 3),,1701277,00.html

It was back in September that retired General Doron Almog decided to stay on an El Al plane at Heathrow and fly back to Israel. He had been tipped off that police were waiting to arrest him on a warrant from Bow Street magistrates.
Almog was accused of issuing illegal orders for the demolition of 59 homes in Gaza after the death of an Israeli soldier, amounting to collective punishment of Palestinian civilians, in breach of the Geneva Convention.

Had he been arrested there would have been a precedent for the arrest and prosecution of Ariel Sharon, whether for the 1953 Qibya massacre or the slaughter at Saand Chatilalala camps in 1982, carried out by Christian fascists backed by the Israeli military. Israel's own Kahan Commission found Sharon culpable for the massacres, but he was not prosecuted. Attempts by survivors to bring a case in Belgium were quashed when the Belgian government bowed to Israeli and US pressure. Sharon and his allies have finally been spared from possible embarrassment, and the government would have him remembered as a peace maker.

Israeli-born solicitor Daniel Machover, of Hickman Rose, brought the prosecution against Almog on behalf of Palestinian clients. Danny believes that if Israeli courts fail to offer redress or uphold the law it is important to take action internationally. He is concerned that what should have been confidential information about the warrant was leaked ahead, and that police failed to board the El Al plane to make an arrest.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw even apologised to the Israeli government for the incident! Since then Israeli officials have met twice with British Home Office officials to discuss it. Now ministers want to stop private individuals applying to magistrates for prosecutions over war crimes, genocide and torture, which leads to international arrest warrants being granted.

Under international law, Britain has a duty to arrest and prosecute alleged war crimes suspects if they arrive on its territory, even though the alleged offences occurred overseas. But US leaders have said before that their officials must be immune from such charges anywhere. It is possible they too want British law changed, though the government denies they have been involved.

Danny Machover says any change would weaken the government's claim to be resolute in fighting serious human rights abuses. "If the UK goes ahead and bends to Israeli pressure, while Israel continues its universally condemned illegal practices, this will sent the worst possible signal to the Israeli army. The British government is completely obsessed with controlling these processes."

Phyllis Starkey, Labour MP for Milton Keynes South West, is among MPs who are raising questions: "The obvious concern is the way in which the Israeli government in particular seems to be given quite favoured access to interfere in UK domestic policy."

Quite a few foreign dictators (remember Pinochet), war criminals and others with whom the British state has had dealings, not all of them friends of Israel, will be relieved that a precedent has been stopped for private citizens and dedicated lawyers getting on their cases.

Incidentally, while I was mentioning Sabra and Chatila I remembered a remark by an Israeli woman at the time. She called the Christian militias in Lebanon "Israel's Ukrainians". Apologies to Ukrainian friends, who are not fascists (any more than all Christians in Lebanon), but we know what she meant. Just a tiny thread to link with my previous was crimes story, even if they are not really connected.


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