Muslim anger over war-crime law pledge

The Muslim Council of Britain has protested to Foreign Secretary David Miliband over plans to change the law to prevent the arrest of Israeli politicians visiting Britain.

MCB general secretary Muhammad Abdul Bari wrote of the council’s “deep disappointment” and “grave concern” at the government’s position following former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s cancellation of a visit to Britain last month.

Accusing Mr Miliband of being “manifestly partisan”, he wrote: “You appear to be committing the government to the path of selective compliance with the enforcement of international law.

“This is surely not in the best interests of our country as it will add a further dimension to the double standards that our government is seen to have in relation to the politics of the Middle East.”

David Miliband is manifestly partisan on this issue

Muhammad Abdul Bari

Ms Livni pulled out of a JNF conference in London after learning that pro-Palestinian lawyers were about to obtain an arrest warrant from magistrates over alleged war crimes because of her involvement in Israel’s military campaign in Gaza a year ago.

Following furious reaction from Israel and Jewish organisations, Mr Miliband reiterated previous government commitment to change the law, saying that the current threat of arrest hampered diplomatic relations with Israel.

The Jewish Leadership Council sent him a legal submission from Lord Pannick, who recommended that arrest warrants in such cases should be issued only with the prior approval of the Attorney-General.

But Dr Bari wrote: “It is hard to imagine how we could escape the charge of hypocrisy from those all too eager to point out our vacillation on allowing the law to take its course in the case of those suspected of committing war crimes.

“We suggest that to understand the Muslim world better is to be aware of the deeply held view that our approach to states in the region is unequal and that our commitment to the observance of international law is ambivalent. Any change to the current procedures on universal jurisdiction and the right of magistrates to issue a warrant will only reinforce this view, with detrimental consequences.”

Conservative MP Douglas Carswell has tabled an early day motion in Parliament calling for a change in the law, as the current system was “detrimental to Britain’s foreign diplomatic relations”.

The Foreign Office said it would respond “in due course”.

    Last updated: 9:55am, March 26 2010