Palestinian group seeks arrest warrant for Barak on ‘war crimes’
In the first case of its kind since the publication of the Goldstone Report, a group of Palestinians are seeking an arrest warrant in the UK on Tuesday for Defense Minister Ehud Barak for alleged war crimes.
Barak decided not to change his plans for his UK visit, with his bureau releasing a statement saying: “No arrest warrant has been issued, and in any event, he has immunity due to his being a minister in the government.”
On Tuesday, two London law firms representing the group – Irvine Thanvi and Natas (ITN) and Imran Khan and Partners – applied for an international arrest warrant at Westminster Magistrates court in central London, claiming that Barak committed war crimes and breaches of the Geneva Convention during Operation Cast Lead.
The British Foreign Ministry sent a letter to the court saying that Barak has immunity, Israel Radio reported.
Barak is currently in the UK and is set to address a Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) reception during the Labour Party’s annual conference in Brighton, on the south coast of England, on Tuesday night.
The move came after 16 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip instructed Al-Mezan, a Gaza-based human rights group, to issue the charges. Al-Mezan in turn instructed the two London firms to represent the group.
A spokesman for ITN told The Jerusalem Post that an arrest warrant has been lodged and that the biggest hurdle would be Barak’s diplomatic immunity.
However, the spokesman said that he was confident that they have a strong legal argument which would override the issue of immunity.
He said that the court would decide on Tuesday afternoon if there was a case and added that if the court had not decided by the afternoon, they would issue an injunction to stop Barak from leaving the country.
A loophole in British law – in the International Criminal Court Act 2001 and the Criminal Justice Act 1988 – allows private individual complaints of “war crimes” to be lodged against military personnel, even if they are not British citizens and the alleged crimes were committed elsewhere.
Pro-Palestinian groups in Britain and other countries have been trying to exploit the loophole against IDF officers and Israeli leaders. Israel is working with the British government to change the law.
Barak is set to meet Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Tuesday and Foreign Minister David Miliband on Wednesday to discuss the growing threat from Iran.