Proposed UK law to shut door on historic war crimes cases

Proposed UK law to shut door on historic war crimes cases
New legislation proposed in the UK could lead to changes in the prosecution of serving and former service personnel, which could hamper efforts to bring those accused of war crimes to justice. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 21 March 2020

Proposed UK law to shut door on historic war crimes cases

Proposed UK law to shut door on historic war crimes cases
  • Government to introduce five-year limit on prosecutions of members of armed forces

LONDON: New legislation proposed in the UK could lead to changes in the prosecution of serving and former service personnel, which could hamper efforts to bring those accused of war crimes to justice.

The UK government is seeking to install a five-year limit on prosecutions for alleged crimes committed abroad while on active service, which could only be exempted in “exceptional circumstances.”

Among other things, it would render almost impossible any proposed cases against members of the UK’s armed forces for crimes supposedly committed while deployed during the occupation of Iraq or the US-led war in Afghanistan.

“This package of legal measures will reduce the unique pressure faced by personnel who perform exceptional feats in incredibly difficult and complex circumstances,” said Johnny Mercer, the UK’s minister for veteran affairs, who served three tours in Afghanistan with the British Army.

“This important next step has gone further than any other government before to protect military personnel who put their life in jeopardy to protect us.”

Peter Glenser QC, a barrister with extensive experience of cases involving UK personnel, said the legislation is being introduced against a backdrop of public sympathy.

“There has been significant public concern over repeated investigations into allegations made against Her Majesty’s Forces, sometimes many years after the events complained of have taken place, especially when there has been no new and compelling evidence,” he told Arab News.

“Concerns have been expressed over the credibility and reliability of evidence and witness statements that may be decades old, and the reopening of investigations that had already concluded,” he added.

“There may be a debate to be had about the length of the time limit, but the erosion of evidence over time presents difficulties. I don’t think this will impact international law, which requires a domestic investigation in the first place.”

Despite support from swathes of UK society for the new rules, they have still proved controversial, on both sides of the aisle. 

Nicholas Mercer, the British Army’s chief legal advisor in Iraq during the 2003 invasion, said the move has even caused division within the ranks of the army itself, as it could incentivize human rights abuses and war crimes in future.

“Discipline and accountability are absolutely essential on the battlefield, and anything which might undermine this must be resisted,” he said.

“Officers are concerned that, not only do the proposals undermine international law, but also potentially encourage other rogue nations to follow suit,” he added.

“The British Army does not need or require any special protection from the law. A professional army complies with the rule of law, rather than circumvents it.”

Nicholas said there are other reasons to oppose the legislation. “If it’s known on the battlefield that British soldiers will not be held to account for crimes they have committed, then enemy combatants might be less inclined to hand themselves over as prisoners,” he added. “It will increase their resolve to fight.”

Cases brought against British soldiers in the UK have been rare, but they have commanded a significant amount of public interest in the past.

The case of Sgt. Alexander Blackman, pseudonymously referred to as “Marine A” during his trial, grabbed headlines in the national press when he was convicted in 2013 of the murder — later reduced to manslaughter on grounds of diminished responsibility — of a wounded Taliban fighter in Afghanistan’s Helmand province in 2011.

Even where no case has been brought, investigations have tended to be prolonged, leading to suggestions that UK personnel have been unfairly treated by the process.

Prominent human rights lawyer Phil Shiner, meanwhile, was struck off as a solicitor in 2017 after a disciplinary tribunal found him guilty of misconduct in pursuing cases against UK service personnel for allegations of wrongdoing — such as torture and mutilation — in Iraq, including knowingly bringing false claims and paying Iraqi middlemen to find people to provide fictitious eyewitness accounts. 

At the time, Johnny referred to Shiner as a “modern-day traitor,” while former army chief Lord Richard Dannatt called for him to face criminal prosecution.

Leading UK tabloid The Sun reported Shiner’s case with the headline “Good riddance,” while the Daily Telegraph claimed he “ruined people’s lives.”

Shiner’s defenestration led to the closure of the UK’s Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) in 2017, as well as Operation Northmoor, which investigated historic allegations from the war in Afghanistan. But despite the scandal, there remains plenty of evidence of wrongdoing in both countries.

The “Marine A” case was just the latest, at the time, in a litany of allegations made against UK personnel that turned out to be true, including the murder in 2003 of Iraqi hotelier Baha Mousa.

He was apprehended and tortured by British soldiers in the city of Basra, before dying in what an inquest into his death called an “appalling episode of serious gratuitous violence.”

In 2017, a judge ordered the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) to pay compensation to Abd Ali Hameed Ali Al-Waheed after he was detained and tortured by British soldiers in Iraq in 2007. 

Several former soldiers, including in a book co-written by The Sun’s Political Editor Tom Newton Dunn, alleged that the British Army had “relaxed” the rules of engagement to allow the shooting of unarmed civilians suspected of being “dickers” (spotters) running surveillance on them, which, they said, led to the deaths of children and teenagers. 

The soldiers were instructed, they said, that they would be protected from prosecution as long as they claimed that they believed their lives were at risk. The shooting of spotters is permitted in international law only when they engage in combat.

A joint investigation by The Times of London and the BBC’s “Panorama” documentary program in November 2019 claimed that the Shiner tribunal had been used as a pretext to close IHAT and Operation Northmoor prematurely.

A senior detective told “Panorama”: “The MoD had no intention of prosecuting any soldier of whatever rank he was unless it was absolutely necessary, and they couldn’t wriggle their way out of it.” 

The MoD did not immediately respond to a request from Arab News for comment. The International Criminal Court, meanwhile, is currently conducting a preliminary inquiry into the conduct of British personnel in Iraq suspected of war crimes, with a view to opening a full investigation.


Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses

Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses
Updated 13 May 2021

Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses

Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses
  • The country received its first COVAX delivery of 854,000 AstraZeneca doses at the start of April
  • Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine

CAIRO: Egypt has received a batch of over 1.7 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses through the COVAX initiative and a separate shipment of 500,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses from China, the health ministry said on Thursday.
The country received its first COVAX delivery of 854,000 AstraZeneca doses at the start of April. It has also received several shipments of the Sinopharm vaccine, bringing the total number of vaccine doses delivered to 5 million, the health ministry said.
Egypt has an agreement for the supply of 20 million Sinopharm doses, and has been allocated 4.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through COVAX.
It is preparing to produce the Sinovac and Sputnik vaccines locally.
Egypt, with a population of just over 100 million, is trying to contain a third wave of COVID-19 infections and the government has put in place some restrictive measures until May 21, shortening opening hours and banning large gatherings.
Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine. Authorities opened a mass vaccination center in Cairo this month capable of vaccinating 10,000 people per day.
Egypt had officially confirmed 240,927 coronavirus cases including 14,091 deaths as of Wednesday.
Officials and experts say the real number of infections is far higher, but is not reflected in government figures because of low testing rates and the exclusion of private test results.


Macron holds talks with Mahmoud Abbas, will discuss Gaza situation with Netanyahu

French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (Reuters)
French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (Reuters)
Updated 13 May 2021

Macron holds talks with Mahmoud Abbas, will discuss Gaza situation with Netanyahu

French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (Reuters)

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron is concerned by the escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians and called for a “definite reset” of negotiations between the two sides, the French presidency said on Thursday.

Palestinian militants fired more rockets into Israel’s commercial heartland on Thursday as Israel kept up a punishing bombing campaign in Gaza and massed tanks and troops on the enclave’s border. 

Other world leaders also called from calm, with US President Joe Biden saying Thursday he hoped fighting “will be closing down” sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also appealed in a video call for an end to the fighting.

“The main goal is to stop violent acts from both sides and ensure the safety of the civilian population,” the Kremlin said in a statement.


UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds

UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds
Updated 13 May 2021

UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds

UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds

The UAE has approved the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children aged 12-15, the government said on Thursday, having already permitted its use for 16 years and above.
The UAE's health ministry approved its use, the government's Twitter account said. The US Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved the use of the vaccine in children as young as 12.


Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan
Updated 13 May 2021

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan
  • Violence lay heavy on hearts of parents of children dressed in new clothes and clutching balloons reveling to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in Jerusalem’s Old City
  • As sun began to break over al-Aqsa mosque crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark Ramadan’s end

JERUSALEM: Dressed in sparkly new clothes and clutching balloons, excited children Thursday revelled in the Muslim Eid Al-Fitr celebrations in Jerusalem’s Old City.
But days of violence lay heavy on their parents’ hearts.
As the first rays of sun began to break over the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam, crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The three-day festival is traditionally celebrated with mosque prayers, family feasts and shopping for new clothes, gifts and sweets.
Stalls stacked high with colorful plastic toys, or tasty sesame-dipped snacks that are a Jerusalem specialty, tempted the crowds snaking along the Old City’s narrow stone streets.
At the centuries-old Damascus Gate, scene of violent clashes between Israeli Arabs and police at the start of Ramadan, two huge bundles of helium-filled balloons fluttered in the spring breeze. Mickey Mouse and Spiderman could be spotted bobbing among them.
Just three days ago, Israeli police deployed so-called skunk water there — a putrid mixture of sewage water — to disperse the crowds after a weekend of unrest in different parts of Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem.
Hundreds of Palestinians were injured as well as dozens of Israeli police in the clashes which also erupted on the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in Judaism, on which the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock shrine also stand.
The convulsion of violence has since spread, engulfing the Gaza Strip run by the Islamic militant Hamas movement, the Palestinian territory of the West Bank and Israeli cities which have seen unprecedented mob clashes between Jewish and Arab residents.
On Thursday the boom of rocket fire could be periodically heard in Jerusalem, where calm has mainly returned to the streets. But many believe it may just be the calm before a further storm.
“Do you see any problems, there, right now? No,” said Jabbar, who is in his 60s, pointing at crowds of Palestinians being carefully watched by heavily-armed Israeli police at Damascus gate.
“But it could flare up again at any minute,” he warned grimly.
“Everything will return to normal if God so wishes it,” said Fefka, who lives in the east Jerusalem quarter of Issawiya.
“The violence has to stop, but everything is only done for the settlers here,” she added angrily.
“Jerusalem is also ours,” she insisted, denouncing Israeli settlers who have moved into the east of the city since it was seized in the 1967 war.
According to the United Nations, east Jerusalem has been illegally occupied and annexed by Israel since then.
Hiba, 26, and Soujoud, 21, have been visiting the Al-Aqsa compound since Friday, the day the troubles erupted, triggered by the threat of evicting Palestinian families from their east Jerusalem homes to allow settlers to move in.
“Morning and evening, we stayed at Al-Aqsa,” said Soujoud, a secretarial student. “We don’t want any problems (with the police), but the mosque is ours and we have to defend it,” she added.
On the site, which overlooks the sprawling Old City below, children were entertained by a clown, while adults brandished Hamas flags and rolled out banners praising the Islamist movement.
“Jerusalem is a red line,” read one of the banners.
On Al-Wad Street which crosses the Old City, some passers-by were wearing shirts decorated with Palestinian flags, others had painted them on the cheeks.
Many were wearing the black-and-white chequered keffiyah scarf which has become a symbol of the Palestinian cause.
“We feel very sad for the Eid today, because of the situation and the violence,” said Hiba.
“We can’t be happy when we see what is happening in Gaza and elsewhere.”


Watchdog slams Iran’s treatment of Kurdish journalists

Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
Updated 13 May 2021

Watchdog slams Iran’s treatment of Kurdish journalists

Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists: Tehran should ‘release all jailed journalists immediately’
  • Minority activists and journalists in Iran regularly face arbitrary detention and torture 

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has spoken out against Iran’s use of “vague, trumped-up” charges to crack down on Kurdish journalists, and urged authorities to release three who remain in detention.

Since May 2020, Tehran’s security forces have arrested dozens of activists and students in a crackdown on perceived pro-Kurdish movements in the country, according to reports cited by the CPJ.

They have arrested at least eight Kurdish journalists, three of whom remain behind bars.

“Iranian authorities’ targeting of Kurdish journalists adds a dimension of ethnic discrimination to the country’s already dire campaign to imprison members of the press,” said the CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa researcher Justin Shilad. 

“Authorities should drop all vague, trumped-up charges filed against Iranian-Kurdish journalists, and release all jailed journalists immediately,” he added.

On condition of anonymity, a lawyer representing several detained journalists told the CPJ that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are “very sensitive about Kurdish journalists and the topics they write about, especially if they write about the unity of Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds, and other regional issues of Kurds.”

Iran’s ethnically diverse population — including Kurds, Arabs, Azerbaijanis and other minorities — has long been a source of insecurity for the regime, which at various times in its history has been confronted with secessionist movements.

For this reason, the lawyer explained, Tehran is “sensitive every time Kurdish journalists travel to Kurdish areas of Iraq such as Erbil. They closely monitor all movements across the border and any journalists’ assembly.”

Jafar Osafi, who is one of three journalists who remain in detention after the 2020 crackdown, ran a religious commentary and discussion channel on Telegram called “QandA with Sunnis.” He was arrested in his own home in June 2020, and has since been moved to Urmia prison, where the CPJ said he remains.

The committee said: “Iranian authorities must stop imprisoning and harassing Kurdish and other minority journalists, and should allow all members of the press to cover the news freely.”

According to Amnesty International, Iran’s ethnic minorities face “entrenched discrimination, curtailing their access to education, employment, adequate housing and political office.

“Members of minorities who spoke out against violations or demanded a degree of regional self-government were subjected to arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities criminalized peaceful advocacy of separatism or federalism and accused minority rights activists of threatening Iran’s territorial integrity.”