A Collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh

UK urged to reform war crimes prosecution laws

[JURIST] War crimes suspects entering or residing in the UK are often immune from prosecution for their acts, according to a report [text, PDF] released Monday by Aegis Trust [advocacy website]. The report refers to a "significant number" of alleged war criminals and perpetrators of genocide in the UK that hail from Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan, and the former Yugoslavia. According to the report, these suspected criminals often escape prosecution because such crimes cannot be tried in the UK if committed before 2001 or if the perpetrator is not a UK resident. The report argues that these policies conflict with UK laws concerning crimes committed during international armed conflicts and laws in the US and Canada, which allow for jurisdiction over such crimes based on presence in the country rather than on residence. The report proposes to "strengthen UK law" by amending the International Criminal Court Act 2001 [text] to allow jurisdiction over anyone who is present in the UK and to allow war crimes to be prosecuted regardless of when they were committed. Removing the current 2001 statutory bar would allow for the prosecution of those suspected of involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder]. Although the government's position remains unclear, members of Parliament have been considering similar amendments [Aegis press release] to the law with sufficient support. The report addresses the implementation of the new policies:

These reforms will not make the UK a global prosecutor. The suspect will need to be present in the UK, the Director of Public Prosecutions and Attorney General will retain their role in assessing the strength of the evidence and whether or not proceedings are in the public interest, and there are no proposals to remove head of state or diplomatic immunities.

While the report acknowledges that transferring suspects to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] or other international tribunals may be preferable, it maintains that such transfers are often not possible. The international criminal tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia [official websites] are coming to an end and the ICC may not have the capacity to take all of the UK cases, resulting in prosecuting only high-profile suspects.

Other countries have also struggled with establishing procedures to prosecute war criminals. Kenya is supposed to establish a tribunal to try perpetrators of the 2007 post-election violence [JURIST reports] by August, as mandated by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. In May, Canada convicted [JURIST report; judgment, DOC] Rwandan Hutu Desire Munyaneza [Trial Watch profile], the first person tried under their Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act [text, PDF], for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The Canadian legislation was ratified to fulfill the country's obligations to the ICC. In April, the government of Bangladesh said that it was working with the UN to organize war crimes prosecutions [JURIST report] arising out of the country's 1971 War of Independence [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] against Pakistan and considering trying the cases in the ICC.

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.