Straw seeks to close genocide loopholes

By staff

New powers to prosecute war criminals living in Britain who have committed atrocities before 1991 were put forward today by Jack Straw.

The justice secretary proposed closing a gap in the law so that British nationals and residents accused of genocide can be prosecuted.

Mr Straw tabled an amendment to the coroners and justice bill which seeks to cover acts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed after January 1st 1991.

The amendment will bring UK law in line with international law – a gap in the current legislation means those accused of involvement in acts prior to 2001 cannot be prosecuted.

However, the changes proposed by the justice secretary will not cover people who are non-resident, such as students and tourists. Activists wanted this loophole to be closed as well.

In an effort to close this loophole, Lord Carlisle has tabled amendments demanding retrospective powers covering those who are simply present in Britain. His amendments are being debated in the House of Lords this afternoon.

Mr Straw said he was looking to see whether it was possible to provide more certainty over who may be considered a British resident.

The new law raises the prospect of possible prosecution of several Rwandan genocide suspects believed to be living in Britain.

The justice secretary said: “The government is strongly committed to the fight against these heinous crimes. We must send a clear signal that the UK is no safe haven for those who commit them.”

He added: “Our preference is for those alleged to have committed such terrible crimes to be brought to justice in the country where the crimes took place, which allows the community that has suffered to see the perpetrators brought to justice.

“But when this is not possible, we are committed to ensuring those guilty of these crimes are punished appropriately and to the full extent of the law in this country.”

The Aegis Trust, which works to prevent crimes against humanity worldwide, has said several people suspected of genocide are currently in the UK, including alleged war criminals from Afghanistan, Sudan, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka.

The total number of suspects in the UK is not in the public domain, but the UK Border Agency has screened 1,863 individuals for war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity since 2004.