By Stuart Littlewood – London
Professor Richard Falk put it most eloquently: ‘The idea of Nuremberg after World War Two was that crimes against the peace, crimes against humanity and war crimes are also offences against the whole of international society…’ The law that was applied to surviving German criminals of World War Two would not be respected unless those who sat in judgment upheld it in relation to their own behaviour.
The UN Special Rapporteur was speaking in London at a parliamentary briefing on Universal Jurisdiction, the principles of which the British government intends to undermine for the benefit of its Israeli friends.
"Universal jurisdiction is part of the struggle against impunity for the Israeli military and the country’s political leaders,” said Falk. “That impunity has been possible both because Israel itself doesn’t impose accountability on those who perpetrate violations of international criminal law and because the US, and to some extent European countries, have given a geopolitical insulation to Israel in relation to its responsibilities as a sovereign state."
The UN’s Goldstone report and the international law panel appointed after the Gaza flotilla incident also raised the issue of impunity and accountability. Falk feels that the most effective way of implementing international law is now through the activism of civil society and through national legal institutions.
Universal Jurisdiction is a good tool for the job. A private individual may apply to a magistrate for an arrest warrant if he has serious evidence. The Attorney General’s consent is needed for the prosecution to go ahead, but even if that consent is withheld the magistrate may still issue a warrant if he considers there are reasonable grounds for suspecting the war crime was committed and admissible evidence is presented which establishes this.
The beauty of the private warrant is that it can be issued speedily.
The bringing of a private prosecution for a criminal offence is an ancient right in common law and, in the words of Lord Wilberforce, "a valuable constitutional safeguard against inertia or partiality on the part of the authority."
Lord Diplock, another respected Lord of Appeal, called it “a useful safeguard against capricious, corrupt or biased failure or refusal of those authorities to prosecute offenders against the criminal law".
And that’s precisely what we’re up against – a capricious, corrupt and biased administration that wants to let ‘friendly’ war criminals off and protect them from arrest while they visit Britain. The government argues that foreign politicians, no matter how blood-soaked, should never be made to feel unwelcome and that the current law impedes Britain’s ability to use its diplomatic powers. In future the Director of Public Prosecutions will consider each application at the arrest warrant stage.
As protestors point out, this is a recipe for political interference and delay, which will enable suspects to slip away – the “inertia and partiality” Wilberforce warned about.
In short, the overriding principle that no-one, regardless of nationality, should feel able to commit war crimes with impunity, is being sacrificed so that the likes of Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister who was responsible for launching the murderous assault on Gaza’s civilians nearly two years ago (an atrocity she was later reported to be proud of and happy to repeat), and other Israeli psychopaths need not fear arrest if they come here.
Meanwhile mountains of evidence of Israel’s war crimes are just waiting to be tested in court.
The UK, like all other countries that think themselves civilised, is under an obligation to enact legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for grave breaches of the Geneva Convention. In other words, there should be no hiding place for the world’s vilest criminals.
But Britain’s heart isn’t in it. Thanks to Wikileaks, we now know that the Foreign Office colluded with America to circumvent our obligation under the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which Britain signed along with 107 other countries. Leaked US embassy papers show that David Miliband, our previous foreign secretary, approved a ‘temporary exemption’ allowing the US to carry on storing cluster bombs offshore at Diego Garcia (a British territory) and transfer them onto US aircraft stationed on the island, hiding the arrangement from parliamentary scrutiny.
Wikileaks also revealed that Conservative party politicians lined up before the general election to promise they would run a "pro-American regime".
Britain’s Barmy Army of ‘Israel-Firsters’
Running a pro-American regime means running a pro-Israel regime, since American policy is dictated by the all-powerful pro-Israel lobby. Stephen Walt, whose book exposed it, told Al Jazeera in the run-up to the US elections: "Almost all of the major candidates are falling over themselves to demonstrate how deeply committed they are to America’s special relationship with Israel. Hardly a word of criticism is directed at anything Israel does and that is due to the activities of the lobby."
John Mearsheimer, co-author of the book, said: "If you look at who is pushing the US to use military force against Iran, the two driving forces are Israel and the Israel lobby."
In a series of private meetings with British Conservatives, leaked US cables tell how foreign secretary-in-waiting William Hague offered a "pro-American" government. Hague also said the entire Conservative leadership were, like him, "staunchly Atlanticist" and "children of Thatcher". He said whoever enters 10 Downing Street as prime minister soon learns of the essential nature of the relationship with America. “We want a pro-American regime. We need it. The world needs it.”
The US diplomat Richard LeBaron commented: "The UK’s commitment of resources – financial, military, diplomatic – in support of US global priorities remains unparalleled.”
Hague is, in his own words, "a longstanding friend of Israel and someone who joined Conservative Friends of Israel at the age of 15". He once said: "The unbroken thread of Conservative Party support for Israel that has run for nearly a century from the Balfour Declaration to the present day will continue."
Liam Fox, now defence minister, was quoted on the Conservative Friends of Israel website as saying: "…We must remember that in the battle for the values that we stand for, for democracy against theocracy, for democratic liberal values against repression – Israel’s enemies are our enemies and this is a battle in which we all stand together or we will all fall divided."
Fox, Hague and David Cameron were known for their subservience to Israel long before they took power. In 2006 The Jewish Chronicle reported on the backers bankrolling David Cameron’s bid for power, providing a fascinating insight into how the pro-Israel lobby infiltrates government and destroys the principles of integrity and accountability so necessary in public life. When Cameron became Conservative leader he proclaimed: "The belief I have in Israel is indestructible – and you need to know that if I become Prime Minister, Israel has a friend who will never turn his back on Israel."
CFI’s Parliamentary Chairman and Chairman of the Defence Select Committee,
James Arbuthnot, addressed the following remarks to Parliament praising Israel: "Everyone in this House should have an interest in Israel, because it is a country that embodies the values that we should stand for. Israel [has] become a bastion of the rule of law, democracy, free speech, business enterprise and family values. If that is not what this country also stands for, I am disappointed."
Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel brazenly state that their first aim is "to maximise support for the State of Israel within the Liberal Democrats and Parliament".
“You Discredit the Rule of Law”
Our last foreign secretary, David Miliband, actually apologised to Tzipi Livni and Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman for the arrest warrant issued against Livni in London a year ago. He promised Lieberman to begin working immediately to change the UK laws.
But the general election overtook him. Miliband’s grovelling promise was echoed by his replacement, Hague, who announced: "We have had good discussions with Israeli ministers on Universal Jurisdiction where the last government left us with an appalling situation where a politician like Mrs Livni could be threatened with arrest on coming to the UK…” He said it was "completely unacceptable… We have agreed in the coalition about putting it right, we will put it right through legislation that will be introduced… The Justice Secretary will bring into the House of Commons adding to legislation going through the House of Commons later this year and I phoned Mrs Livni amongst others to tell her about that and received a very warm welcome for our proposals".
At the same time he insulted the public’s intelligence by saying: “The UK is committed to upholding international justice and all of our international obligations. Our core principle remains that those guilty of war crimes must be brought to justice.”
During a recent trip to Israel Hague had the door slammed in his face by the petulant racist regime, cancelling strategic talks in order to ratchet up the pressure.
Even the Zionists’ 63-year record of land thieving, piracy, ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate slaughter, mass abductions and imprisonment, torture, everyday terror and wholesale contempt for international law and human rights, isn’t enough to diminish the blind loyalty of our high-placed elected servants to the thugs of Tel Aviv.
In the fight to preserve Universal Jurisdiction and some semblance of honour, we can see how the odds are stacked. The corruption, bias and inertia the law lords warned of run deep. I leave the last word to Richard Falk, who makes the point that if a country like Britain, with its proud constitutional tradition, applies international criminal law only to those its leaders don’t like at the time – for example, Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic – “you discredit, in a fundamental way, the rule of law which really does depend on equals being treated equally.
“If that is not done then double standards become very manifest; it also has the effect of saying that geopolitics and foreign policy always trump the law.”
– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.