In Parliament the Second Reading Commons’ debate was held for the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. This contains the proposal (clause 151) to give the Director of Public Prosecutions a veto on whether or not a court can consider issuing an arrest warrant for war crimes.
The Bill was introduced by Theresa May from the government, with Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker, the Home Office Shadow team, leading the opposition. Unfortunately, clause 151 was one of the few areas they offered Labour’s support for, although they promised to ‘probe’ these aspects. However, their support was not echoed by a single speaker on the Opposition backbenches. Sir Gerald Kaufman launched a stinging attack, stating that this change in the law ‘would never have been proposed if it were not for the case of Tzipi Livni, the war criminal daughter of a terrorist father’. He catalogued some of the crimes of the Israeli state against the Palestinians including the assault on Gaza; their attack on the flotilla; holding political prisoners; abuse of prisoners, including children and reminded the House that a change in the law will mean that one of the few sanctions open will be removed and “Israeli politicians will be literally allowed to get away with murder.”
Ann Clwyd pointed out how rarely arrest warrants were made, how difficult it was to obtain one and set out that “nothing needs fixing, as nothing has been broken.”
Tom Brake was the only Liberal Democrat to make a speech covering the issue, and unfortunately was broadly supportive of the Government measures, but did raise that “sufficient resources need to be made available to the DPP to ensure that arrest warrant requests are dealt with speedily, and are not used as a means of ensuring that appropriate action is not taken.”
The Coalition Government predictably won the vote on the Second reading, and the Bill will now be heard by a committee of MPs selected by the Whips. The Bill will be debated again at its Report and Third Reading, which will take place after mid-February.
It is still not too late to press your MP to defend universal jurisdiction, and oppose war criminals being able to ‘get away with murder’. Please arrange to meet them at their constituency surgery in January. PSC has prepared detailed briefings.