Ehud Olmert Could Face War Crimes Arrest if He Visits UK

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The Guardian/UK

Ehud Olmert Could Face War Crimes Arrest if He Visits UK

Prosecution of Israelis likely, says solicitor • Lawyers working on use of universal jurisdiction

by
Ian Black

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. (Photograph: Sebastian Scheiner/ AP)

Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister during the Gaza war, would probably face arrest on war crimes
charges if he visited Britain, according to a UK lawyer who is working
to expand the application of "universal jurisdiction" for offences
involving serious human rights abuses committed anywhere in the world.

Neither
Olmert nor Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister during the Cast Lead
offensive, and a member of Israel's war cabinet, would enjoy immunity
from prosecution for alleged breaches of the Geneva conventions,
predicted Daniel Machover, who is involved in intensifying legal work
after the controversial Goldstone report on the three-week conflict.
Neither are ministers any longer.

Prosecutions of Israeli
political and military figures remain likely despite the failure to
obtain an arrest warrant for Ehud Barak, the defence minister, when he
visited the UK earlier this month, he said. In the Barak case a
magistrate accepted advice from the Foreign Office that the minister
enjoyed state immunity and rejected an application made on behalf of
several residents of the Gaza Strip.

"This needs to be tested at
the right time and in the right place," Machover said. "One day one of
these people will make a mistake and go to the wrong country and face a
criminal process — and then it'll be a matter for the courts of that
country to give them a fair trial: that's what the Palestinian victims
want."

The death toll for the war was some 1,300 Palestinians and
13 Israelis. Israel insists it acted in legitimate self-defence in
response to rocket attacks by Hamas.

Police sources denied a
claim that police maintain a "watch list" of Israeli officers who would
face arrest if they try to enter the country.

In 2005 General
Doron Almog was tipped off that he was about to be arrested before
leaving a plane at Heathrow airport. Last month a former chief of
staff, General Moshe Ya'alon, cancelled a visit to Britain, apparently
for fear of arrest. Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet security
service, faced an arrest warrant in the Netherlands following a
complaint by a Palestinian who said he had been tortured.

The
development of universal jurisdiction has been boosted by the Goldstone
report, which urged Israel to conduct an independent inquiry into
alleged war crimes. Failing that, other governments were advised to try
suspects using universal jurisdiction. Another option was for the UN
security council to refer allegations to the international criminal
court. Israel refused to co-operate with the report, which also accused
Hamas of war crimes.

But the law is complex and developing
unevenly. Lawyers in Germany were this week unable to obtain an arrest
warrant for the current Israeli army chief of staff, Lieutenant General
Gabi Ashkenazi, because German law grants immunity to guests invited on
state visits. Spain is considered legally "dangerous" by the Israelis.

Machover
confirmed that he was working with other lawyers in the EU and
elsewhere "in an increasingly organised fashion in different
jurisdictions. It's not just about Palestine. It might be about Rwanda
or Afghanistan," he said.

Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper reported
today that officers of the Israel Defence Forces who took part in the
Gaza operation have been asked to consult legal experts at the foreign
ministry, where they are instructed how to behave abroad and in some
cases advised not to visit certain countries.

The ministry said
it was "aware of efforts undertaken by Palestinian groups and their
supporters to harm IDF officers through legal and public relations
means, and is working to prevent such efforts."

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