Universal jurisdiction

March 12, 2010


On 10 March the Board of Deputies of British Jews together with the Jewish Leadership Council  issued a guardedly cautious criticism of the government’s failure to move faster to deal with what the Board calls ‘the current abuse of the principles of Universal Jurisdiction’ (see below.)

The Jewish Chronicle was not to be outdone. It carried an article the next day by Martin Bright Analysis: You’ve betrayed the Jewish community, Jack Straw. The tone is outraged: “The time has now come to tell the full story of how the government betrayed the Jewish community over “universal jurisdiction”. In more than a decade of covering UK politics, I have never known a story quite like this…”

Who is this Jewish community that is so outraged and betrayed? Who is so concerned to conflate the interests of the Israeli state with those of the Jewish community in Britain? This community is clearly defined to exclude from its midst the many, many members of Jewish communities in Britain who, with others, support the maintenance of the law on universal jurisdiction, are not aware of any ‘current abuse’, and are neither outraged nor disappointed by the government’s decision that a change of this magnitude needs, at the very least, to be carefully considered and not rushed into in order to appease any voluble lobby group.

In our view it would be a grave mistake to change the existing law. As a reminder of what is at stake, see earlier postings on this site: Human Rights Watch: Don’t Shackle UK Courts on War Crimes and Torture; Amnesty International call on universal jurisdiction and Lady Scotland opens a can of worms. Fortunately many Jewish human-rights lawyers are active in the campaign and speak as much for the Jewish community as the many self-appointed guardians of its alleged concerns.

Richard Kuper, JfJfP Information Officer

PS: Recent statements concerning the arrest of Dr Ejup Ganic are relevant here and show the government acting on a quite principled basis in this case e.g. junior FCO Chris Bryant on 5 March 2010 here and Miliband on 11 March here.

Joint statement issued 10 March 2010 by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council

Recent Developments regarding the law of Universal Jurisdiction

We are encouraged that the Prime Minister has fully acknowledged the serious concerns that exist about the current abuse of the principles of Universal Jurisdiction, and that he has unequivocally stated that the Government intends to legislate to resolve the current anomaly in the law.

However, we are disappointed at the additional delay, particularly when the case for change has long been recognised by the Government, and is so overwhelming.

We will fully engage in this new round of consultation and scrutiny as set out by the Secretary of State for Justice, but once this process has concluded political leaders must deliver on their commitment to legislate.

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