Almost 100 Israeli, Palestinian and international feminist organizations wrote a letter on Tuesday to Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband, urging them not to take action to change the law granting courts universal jurisdiction in Britain.
"Universal jurisdiction is an essential legal device, symbolizing the responsibility of the global community to prevent crimes against humanity wherever they occur, to bring justice to the victims and to protect the citizens of the world from tyranny, persecution and institutionalized violence," the signatories wrote.
"The United Kingdom played an instrumental role in establishing these principles in the aftermath of the Second World War, and should commit itself to protecting and maintaining them. The British government's intent to undermine universal jurisdiction sets a dangerous precedent in defending criminal government officials, rather than the victims of their crimes."
Eilat Mazor, coordinator of the Israeli-based Coalition of Women for Peace, said her organization had initiated the letter after reading reports that Brown and Miliband wanted to change the law, which currently allows private individuals to ask British courts to issue detention orders against suspected war criminals and to try them as such.
Recently, a court issued an arrest warrant against Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni, who served as foreign minister during Operation Cast Lead last year. Brown later apologized for the warrant and said Livni was always welcome in Britain, while Miliband reportedly told her he would take action to prevent such incidents in the future.
But Mazor and the other organizations had precisely Livni and the other former members of the Olmert government in mind. Declaring that Israel "has yet to conduct a thorough, independent and reliable investigation of the war crimes" it committed in Cast Lead, the letter called on the international community "to ensure that Israel will comply with international human rights and humanitarian law. Issuing arrest warrants against Israeli officials responsible... among them Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni, is an important means to this end."
Asked why the organizations had not demanded that Britain apply universal jurisdiction to Hamas leaders even though the Goldstone Report had concluded that they, too, may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, Maoz said there was no comparison, as the rocket fire on Israeli towns in the Gaza periphery was "a popular uprising."