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UK: Government seeks to water down treaty which could allow war criminals to go free

© Omar Havana/Getty Images

British officials in Slovenia pushing for weaker rules despite UK supporting international justice measures for Ukraine

‘This alarming move could let suspected torturers and war criminals escape justice’ - Sacha Deshmukh

Responding to diplomatic moves this week by the UK government to make the obligation to extradite or prosecute those who are wanted for the most serious crimes under international law merely optional under the proposed new Convention on International Cooperation in the Investigation and Prosecution of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes and other International Crimes treaty, which is being negotiated at the Ljubljana conference in Slovenia (15-26 May), Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s Chief Executive, said:

“This alarming move could let suspected torturers and war criminals escape justice.

“Bafflingly, the UK is facing both ways on this vital issue - heartily supporting Ukraine’s efforts to prosecute war criminals on the one hand, while on the other, British officials are seeking to water down important rules in the international fight for justice, truth and reparation.

“The Government must withdraw these and other harmful amendments.

“The UK has historically supported important measures to bring war criminals to justice, yet it now risks being on the wrong side of history with this important new treaty.”

Undermining principle of universal jurisdiction

Government officials from over 77 countries are meeting in Ljubljana, Slovenia from 15-26 May to conclude negotiations and adopt the landmark treaty also known as the Mutual Legal Assistance Convention.

The purpose of the treaty would require governments that have joined it either to investigate and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute suspected perpetrators of these crimes in their own domestic courts, or hand them over to another country or to an international criminal tribunal for trial there.

The UK and France have proposed some amendments which defeat the object and purpose of the new convention. These include a change to draft article 6(2) to make the obligation to extradite or prosecute (aut dedere aut judicare) merely discretionary. If this proposal is adopted, it seriously risks undermining the vital principle of “universal jurisdiction” as a requirement under international law and may potentially override important provisions in other treaties such as the Convention Against Torture.

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