Scotland Yard’s War Crimes Unit transmitted a letter to the Israeli Embassy in London last week inviting Tzipi Livni to a police interview under caution in relation to her role in Israel’s 2008-2009 offensive on the Gaza Strip (Operation ‘Cast Lead’). At the time of the offensive Ms. Livni was Minister for Foreign Affairs and a member of the Security Cabinet.
Livni is suspected of having committed war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. In 2009, a British judge issued a warrant for her arrest with regard to those suspected war crimes. She is currently visiting the United Kingdom in a private capacity, to participate in a conference organised by an Israeli newspaper.
Livni chose not to be interviewed by the police. Despite media reports that Ms Livni claims to be “proud” of her actions as a member of the Israeli Government, it is notable that she refused the opportunity to clarify her position with regard to the offences she is accused of having committed, to assist the police in their enquiries, and to respect the British legal system.
Instead, she chose to actively undermine due process and the rule of law, and to place herself above the law.
Media reports state that, upon receiving the invitation for interview, senior Israeli officials immediately contacted their British counterparts, in an attempt to classify Ms Livi’s visit as a ‘Special Mission’ involving diplomatic contacts even though Ms Livni holds no official position other than being a member of the Israeli Parliament in the main opposition party bloc. The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office decision to recognise Ms. Livni’s visit as a Special Mission is a purported attempt to protect her from arrest and prosecution. The British Government needs to answer for this extraordinary interference with due process on the part of the police and DPP.
The granting of Special Mission immunity in this instance is unwarranted, and inappropriate. The Convention on Special Missions states that: ‘a “special mission” is a temporary mission, representing the State, which is sent by one State to another State with the consent of the latter for the purpose of /dealin/g with it on specific questions or of performing in relation to it a specific task.’
There is no evidence that Ms. Livni’s visit satisfied the requirements of the Convention on Special Missions. She is visiting the United Kingdom in her private capacity in order to attend a conference organised by a newspaper. It is reported that a meeting with Government officials has been scheduled only after Scotland Yard’s invitation to interview her, which can only have been a calculated interference in due process on the part of the police, organised solely to facilitate the granting of immunity during her visit here.
The inappropriate last minute grant of Special Mission immunity, and Ms. Livni’s refusal to cooperate with the police, directly undermines the rule of law. Regrettably, this appears to be part of a broader trend whereby Israeli officials suspected of committing war crimes are granted political cover, in order to shield them from investigation and accountability.
War crimes are amongst the most serious crimes known to the international community, and are universally condemned. Since the Nuremberg trials it has been recognised as a fundamental principle of international law that all those suspected of committing war crimes should be investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted, irrespective of their political or military rank. By ratifying the Geneva Conventions of 1949 both the United Kingdom and Israel accepted the obligation to seek out and prosecute suspected war criminals, irrespective of the place of commission of the crime or the nationality of the perpetrator.
Respect for the rule of law demands that these investigations and prosecutions be conducted independently and impartially. If the rule of law is to have meaning, it must not be subject to arbitrary political interference. Ms. Livni should not be able to frustrate the criminal process by being granted exceptional immunity on the basis of either her former political office, or her political connections. It is clear that Ms. Livni has a case to answer. A warrant for her arrest was issued in the United Kingdom in 2009 but withdrawn when it became clear she was no longer in the jurisdiction.
This is not a political issue. It is a matter of justice, of respect for victims’ rights, and of the straightforward impartial application of the rule of law. The British Government should not undermine the rule of law through political interference. What message does this send to the world?
The United Kingdom must not become a safe haven where suspected war criminals can escape justice by means of political interference in the legal system. The British people should not allow their legal system to be abused in this manner. As representatives of the victims, our request is simple: apply the law in an independent and impartial manner.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights represents victims of war crimes and other violations of international law. Among other victim’s families they act on behalf of Abed Rabbu Ashour Ahmed Al-Ghefari who is a Palestinian policeman. His brother Na’im Ashour Al-Ghefari died with more than 60 other civilian police officers and trainees when the police compound in Gaza City was bombed by Israeli war planes on 27 December 2008 while a graduation ceremony of police cadets was taking place.