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Suspected war criminal Doron Almog cancels UK visit

Suspected war criminal Doron Almog cancels UK visit despite offer of immunity by UK Government

On 26 June 2013, suspected Israeli war criminal Major General Doron Almog (retired) was scheduled to visit the United Kingdom to meet with the ‘UK Task Force on Issues Relating to Arab Citizens of Israel’, a non-governmental organisation. In advance of this visit, the UK Government awarded Mr. Almog’s visit the status of a Special Mission, thereby granting him immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.

However, Mr Almog made a last minute cancellation of his planned visit to the UK last week.

The lawyers for the victims of his suspected war crimes last week challenged the decision to grant immunity to Mr Almog, given that it was made by the Government despite the existence of a warrant for Mr Almog’s arrest on war crimes charges. No answers have yet been received to the questions raised with the Government’s legal advisers.

Background
On 10 September 2005, a British court issued a warrant for Mr. Almog’s arrest in relation to the destruction of 59 houses in Rafah refugee camp on 10 January 2002, which formed part of a sustained policy of house demolitions in the Gaza Strip. The police stood ready to arrest Mr Almog on 11 September 2005 on suspicion of that war crime and three other allegations relating to his period as commander of the Gaza Strip (2000-2004). Mr Almog escaped arrest after refusing to leave his aeroplane at Heathrow airport following a tip off, and he was allowed to return to Israel.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and Hickman & Rose solicitors, who represent the victims of Mr Almog’s actions, condemn the UK Government’s recent decision to grant Mr Almog immunity in light of the above events of September 2005.

Special mission status – wrong in this case and generally open to abuse
The UK Government’s decision exhibits a clear disregard for the rule of law, and sends the unequivocal message that suspected Israeli war criminals will not be held to account,even if a British court has issued a warrant for their arrest. This sends a dangerous message regarding the UK’s commitment to the rule of international law, and the State’s binding international obligations under Articles 1 and 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, 1949.

Significantly, the decision to grant immunity also sends the clear message that Israel can commit war crimes in the Gaza Strip with impunity. In the absence of the rule of law, the 1.7 million civilians of the Gaza Strip are condemned to a future of violence, denied the protections and safeguards of universal human rights and international humanitarian law.

On the available information, the purpose of Mr Almog’s (now aborted) visit – to meet with a non-governmental organisation – in no way conforms with the criteria necessary to qualify as a ‘special mission’. These matters and others are being taken up with the UK Government.

Indeed, the concern of those who seek the equal application of the rule of law to all persons suspected of serious international crimes is that decisions on granting special immunity status risk running contrary to basic principles of equal application of the law and of the international legal obligations of seeking out and prosecuting suspected war criminals.

These decisions need public debate and increased legal scrutiny to avoid the status of special mission falling into disrepute as a vehicle to protect friends of a given government from the due process of the criminal law for alleged serious human rights and humanitarian law abuses.

ENDS

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