No room for double standards when it comes to upholding international law


War crimes and other fundamental breaches of international law are not simply issues to be tackled in the countries in which they take place. The issues they raise are of such significance to humanity as a whole that every country has an obligation to ensure that justice is done.

That is what the principle of universal jurisdiction is about and I am pleased that Gordon Brown has endorsed that principle in his Telegraph article today.

In the UK this means that if a magistrate receives clear evidence that somebody who comes to these shores may be guilty of war crimes, they can be arrested here pending prosecution. Nobody appears to have seen this as a problem until last year when these principles were applied to Israeli figures who had played key roles in ordering or executing the onslaught on Gaza which took place in the winter of 2008/09; an onslaught which resulted in the deaths of over 1,300 Palestinians – including hundreds of children.

There is no room for double standards when it comes to upholding international law. It worries me that Israel still appears to reject any notion that it should be held accountable for what it did in Gaza last year. It worries me that this culture of impunity on the part of Israel still maintains a blockade on Gaza that inhibits humanitarian aid reaching the area; which stops the import of cement which would allow bombed out hospitals from being rebuilt and which continues to deny clean drinking water to many of Gaza’s one and a half million people.

I am pleased that last week the UK Government voted at the United Nations for continuing investigation of the war crimes allegedly committed both by Israel and some Palestinian groups in the winter of 2008. Rather than playing around with the way the UK legal system applies the principle of universal jurisdiction today, however, the British Government would be better devoting its efforts to ensuring that the UN can ensure that those responsible for the atrocities in Gaza are held accountable in practice, and that the continuing humanitarian nightmare there is brought to an end.

Israel may not like to hear these things but they are true.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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