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Brown vows to change universal jurisdiction law

LONDON (JTA) — British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he will change legislation enabling Palestinian organizations to obtain arrest warrants against Israeli political leaders on suspicion of war crimes. 

However, in practice, the legislation is likely to wait until after the general elections in the United Kingdom.

In Thursday’s Daily Telegraph, Brown wrote that Britain is committed to "universal jurisdiction" in serious cases of war crimes.  But he added that Britain must make sure that individuals with political interests cannot acquire arrest warrants issued against foreign leaders in cases where there is not sufficient evidence.

In order to overcome this problem, Brown announced Thursday that his government is considering changing the law in such a way that will require the consent of the Public Prosecution Service prior to the issuance of such an arrest warrant.

Brown added that the government’s suggestion will be put before the Parliamentary Justice Committee. Justice Minister Jack Straw indicated that the committee will have to present its conclusion to the government within one month.

However, since the UK is in the midst of an election campaign, and the prime minister might announce the election date before the date the committee has to present its conclusion, it might be too late to enact the law before the election.

Israeli officials and military officers, unwilling to risk having an arrest warrant issued against them, have been avoiding the UK.

Britain wants to continue to be involved in the Middle East peace process, and the British government is aware that it would be marginalized if Israeli politicians refuse to visit Britain.

Israeli British Ambassador Ron Prosor welcomed Brown’s announcement.

“We particularly concur that ‘Britain cannot afford to have its standing in the world compromised for the sake of tolerating such gestures,’ " he said, quoting from Brown’s piece in the Telegraph.

The Conservative Party’s spokesman on Justice, Dominic Grieve, said: "This morning Gordon Brown wrote in the Daily Telegraph that ‘Britain cannot afford to have its standing in the world compromised’ by spurious and politicized war crimes prosecutions. This afternoon he kicked the whole issue into the long grass. The Conservatives would have supported him in resolving the problem, but he has chosen to duck it instead."
 

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