Britain Changes Law That Enabled War Crime Charges Against Israelis

Reform began after arrest warrant issued in 2009 against opposition leader Tzipi Livni; British Ambassador says change in law means it 'can no longer be abused for political reasons.'

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Britain has amended a law that allowed for issuing arrest warrants against Israeli politicians who visit the country, British Ambassador Matthew Gould announced Thursday. Gould called opposition leader Tzipi Livni, against whom an arrest warrant was issued in 2009, and told her the Queen has signed the amendment "to ensure that the UKs justice system can no longer be abused for political reasons."

Lawyers working with Palestinian activists in recent years have sought the arrest of senior Israeli civilian and military figures under terms of universal jurisdiction. This legal concept empowered judges to issue arrest warrants for visiting officials accused of war crimes in a foreign conflict, under the principle of universal jurisdiction which holds that some alleged crimes are so grave that they can be tried anywhere, regardless of where the offences were committed.

Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni, August 3, 2011.Credit: Emil Salman

After the warrant was issued against Livni in 2009, Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced that Britain would no longer tolerate legal harassment of Israeli officials in that fashion.

Ambassador Gould added Thursday that the change in the law will ensure that people cannot be detained when there is no realistic chance of prosecution, while ensuring that we continue to honour our international obligations.

Livni welcomed the amendment, and told Gould that she is "pleased that the warrant issued against me opened Britain's eyes and will put a stop to the cynical use of British legislation against IDF commanders and soldiers."

Livni added that "real justice has been done, and it will distinguish between leaders and commanders who defend their country against terrorism, and real war criminals."



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