UK lawyers urge government to ‘uphold rule of law’ in Gaza conflict News
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UK lawyers urge government to ‘uphold rule of law’ in Gaza conflict

A number of UK lawyers on Thursday urged the government to ensure that international law and the rule of law are upheld in Gaza in an open letter signed by over 250 senior lawyers and academics. The letter, addressed to the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Defence secretary, seeks to convince the government to use its influence to secure a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.

On October 7, Hamas led attacks on Israel, resulting in the deaths of 1,400 Israelis and other nationals and the taking of at least 224 hostages. Israel has responded with bombings and, most recently, sent in ground forces to the Gaza Strip. The letter states that the attack on October 7 amounts to a clear breach of international law, which prohibits harming civilians and any persons who are not engaged in warfare. It outlines that “Palestine is a State Party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court” and, therefore, “war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Palestinian nationals fall under the personal jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.”

The letter, however, also condemns the actions being taken by Israel. It says that “the commission by one party to a conflict – including an armed group – of serious violations of international humanitarian law does not, however, justify their commission by another party.” It draws focus to the dense population of Gaza, of which one million comprises children. In particular, the letter states that Israel’s actions of “arbitrary failure to allow and facilitate the impartial and impeded passage of humanitarian relief” is prohibited under Article 54 of the Geneva Conventions, and forcible transfer of civilian populations from one area to another is prohibited under Article 49. Prominent human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have also criticised the evacuation order of Gaza.

The letter urges the UK to observe its duty to “respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law as set out in the Four Geneva Conventions’ and to ensure that it does not ‘encourage, nor aid or assist its violation by others.” It concludes its letter by urging the government to act pursuant to Article 1 of the UN Charter.

The UK Government has made clear its stance in support of Israel’s “right to self defence.” However, the letter notes that some UN personnel have said that there is a risk of “genocide” in Gaza and that the 1951 Genocide Convention creates an obligation for the UK to act in the prevention of “genocide where there is a risk of genocide happening.”