Elham Asaad Buaras
The UK Government has been accused of evading international law after it granted temporary diplomatic immunity to Israel’s Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, during her visit to London on May 14.
The Foreign Office (FCO) confirmed a day before Livni was due to meet with British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, that Livni has been assigned a Special Mission Status, effectively diplomatic immunity against arrest and potential prosecution for alleged breaches of international law, including war crimes.
Livni was a member of the Israeli war cabinet that sanctioned the three week assault on Gaza (launched on December 27, 2008) in which more than a thousand non-combatant Palestinians were killed and over 5,000 were injured.
“Since the visit meets all the essential elements for a special mission, and for avoidance of any doubt on the matter, the FCO has confirmed consent to the visit as a special mission,” the FCO told The Muslim News.
The move comes amid efforts to secure a warrant for Livni’s arrest by London lawyers Hickman and Rose, acting on behalf of a relative of a Palestinian killed in the bombing of a police compound on the first day of the offensive known as Operation Cast Lead.
This is not the first time the UK Government intervened in the judicial system and awarded “special mission status” to protect Livni from international law.
In October 2011 she was also given Special Mission Status after an application was submitted for her arrest over “war crimes.”
In December 2009, she was forced to cancel a visit due to an arrest warrant issued by a British magistrates court. The British Government later changed the law on “universal jurisdiction” to require approval from the Director of Public Prosecutions before issuing a warrant for charges of international war crimes.
The UK Government has in the past awarded a Special Mission Status to Israeli officials; last year it applied the status to the visits former Major General Doron Almog and Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. General Benny Gantz both suspected of war crimes.
The FCO refused to disclose details about the number of times Special Mission Status were awarded to foreign officials suspected of committing war crimes “in view of the confidentiality of diplomatic exchanges”.
The FCO denied accusation it is bypassing and politicising the judicial by granting temporary immunities to suspected war criminals.
In a statement to The Muslim News a spokesman for the FCO insisted, “The sending of special missions between States is an essential aspect of the maintenance international relations. The status of special missions is a requirement of international law which has been recognized by our courts, and it enables exchanges to take place between governments.”
However, Sarah Colborne of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, said: “It is an outrage that the British Government appears to have offered Tzipi Livni immunity from prosecution for the gravest of offences – war crimes … Livni may be desperately trying to run, and hide, from justice. But she should know that you can’t evade justice for war crimes – and there is no expiry date. Tzipi Livni can’t rely on getting ‘get out of jail free’ cards every time she travels overseas. ”