Why did the UK change its law to allow suspected war criminals safer passage while our defence minister was being courted by Israeli businessmen? October 28, 2011 06:31

One of the great victories for justice after the Second World War was the principle of Universal Jurisdiction. This is a principle which allows one country to try someone accused of a crime committed in another country. It is most often used in cases of crimes against populations such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances or torture. It was the principle that was used by the UK to allow the arrest of general Pinochet of Chile.

In a sad turn of events for British Justice, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill proposed by the Cameron government came into law in September 2011. This bill included a clause that makes the arrest of suspected war criminals significantly more difficult in the UK. This proposal had been opposed to no avail by a number of human rights and justice organisations, such as Amnesty and Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

The government claims it introduced this clause into the bill to stop arrests being carried out for political purposes.However, it has made the key player in the decision to arrest the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is a political appointee rather than a judicial one. In simple terms, this means it is pretty much up to the government rather than the law to decide who it arrests. And the government has at times kept friends who could easily feature on a suspect list, including Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Ariel Sharon and most recently Tzipi Livni.

So why the sudden change of UK law? Well, it came hot on the heels of the attempt to arrest ex-Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni if she entered UK soil for crimes against the civilians of Gaza. She was Israeli foreign minister with alleged responsibility of involvement in the massacre of civilians including several hundred children in the Israeli invasion of Gaza in early 2009. Although Israel has been a beneficiary of the principle of Universal Jurisdiction, for instance bringing Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann to trial in the early 60s, Israel put significant pressure on the UK to amend UK law when there was the real possibility that Tzipi Livni would be arrested in the UK using this same principle. What's good for the goose is clearly not good for the gander.

It now transpires as reported by the Guardian, the Independent, the Mail and others, that our own ex-Defence Minister Liam Fox had "improper relations" including financial ones with a number of strongly pro-Israeli businessmen and lobbyists. These relations, amongst others, were "improper" enough that they forced his resignation. So while the Defence Minister was being wooed by Israeli lobbyists, the UK changed its law to make it easier for suspected Israeli war criminals to enter the UK. Coincidence perhaps, but surely someone should be asking questions?