A group of Israeli military officers were forced to call off a trip to Great Britain for fear of being arrested and charged with war crimes in a British court. The threat stems from Great Britain’s legal concept of universal jurisdiction for certain crimes.
The idea of universal jurisdiction allows a British judge to order the arrest and prosecution of a foreign national who happens to be within Great Britain if that person is accused of war crimes. Palestinian activists claim that Israel committed numerous war crimes during the recent war in the Gaza strip that was waged to suppress Hama rocket attacks.
The principle of universal jurisdiction was used in 1998 to arrest former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet while on a visit to Great Britain on a Spanish warrant for the alleged murder of Spanish citizens while ruler of Chile. Pinochet was later released without trial on medical grounds.
More recently, Palestinian activists persuaded a British judge to issue a warrant for the arrest of former Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, forcing the Israeli politician to cancel a visit to Great Britain. Just this year a Spanish judge attempted to prosecute a number of Israeli officials for a military strike that killed a Hamas leader but also a number of civilians.
Ironically the concept of universal jurisdiction first came about as a result of Israel’s abduction, trial, and execution of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Israel claimed the right to apprehend and bring to trial Nazi war criminals wherever they resided. Universal jurisdiction now seems to be used as a tool to harass Israeli politicians, diplomats, and military officers.
Officials of Islamic countries, such as Iran, have so far not run afoul of universal jurisdiction prosecutions.
The situation has gotten so bad that many observers have concluded that the misuse of universal jurisdiction has made normal relations between Great Britain and Israel impossible. British government officials have promised to change the law, a move hotly opposed by Palestinians and their supporters.
One can see how the use of universal jurisdiction as a political weapon can lead to all sorts of mischief. An American military officer or CIA agent might find him or herself arrested in a foreign country if an anti American judge were persuaded to issue a warrant. Some have suggested that even former President Bush and his top officials might find themselves in legal jeopardy for actions undertaken during the War on Terror.
Such a development would cause all sorts of diplomatic rifts and would be of benefit only to the enemies of human civilization.
Source: Israelis Cancel UK Trip Due to War Crimes Fears, Amy Teibel, AP, January 5th, 2009