Prime Minister Boris Johnson Confirms UK Opposition to ICC Investigation into war crimes in Palestine

The Balfour Project read with sadness and dismay the concluding words in the Prime Minister’s letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel of 9 April 2021. These words assert that “Palestine is not a sovereign State” and that the investigation by the ICC “gives the impression of being a partial and prejudicial attack on a friend and ally of the UK’s.” Neither assertion holds water. Each is morally and legally bankrupt. Balfour Project commends the statement made by a number of British charities and NGOs in response, and adds the following comments.

The official policy of HM Government on Palestinian statehood is set out in a statement by Foreign Office Minister Lord Ahmed in the House of Lords on 7 June 2018: “We will formally recognise the State of Palestine when we believe it best serves the cause of peace.” In international law, recognition of one sovereign State by another is an act of political will that lies entirely in the discretion of the recognising State. Lord Ahmed’s statement implied an acknowledgement on the part of the Government that Palestine already is a sovereign State. The formal act of British recognition might be withheld for the time being, but Lord Ahmed clearly envisaged it as following in due course at the time when the Government deemed most opportune for peace. It’s when, not if –the Balfour Project has consistently urged formal UK recognition now. That urgent call remains valid.

Lord Ahmed’s statement was not made in a vacuum. By UNGA67/19 of 29 November 2012, Palestine had been accepted as a sovereign State by the United Nations as a non-member observer State. 139 member States of the UN as well as the Vatican have accorded recognition to Palestine as a fellow sovereign State. In October 2014, a non-binding vote of the House of Commons called on the Government to recognise Palestine alongside Israel as a contribution to negotiating a two-state solution. The vote in favour was by 276 to 14.

Britain today seeks to portray itself as a global power, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, keen to exert itself as a positive force in the world and to uphold the rules-based international order. The Prime Minister’s assertion that Britain no longer accepts that Palestine is a State, albeit one to which Her Majesty’s Government may not yet have accorded recognition, is truly shocking. The Governmentshould correct the record in Parliament as a matter of urgency. But will it?

The Prime Minister’s assertion that the ICC investigation “gives the impression of being a partial and prejudicial attack on a friend and ally of the UK’s” beggars belief. It is truly bizarre that this assertion should be contained in a letter that also asserts that the UK is “a strong supporter of the ICC in line with its founding statute” and refers to the UK’s “enduring commitment to strengthening the Court and serving international justice”. Both states, the UK and Palestine, have signed up to the ICC’s founding statute. Our Government made no objection when Palestine did so. It is both wrong and harmful of the Prime Minister to seek to disparage an impending investigation by the Court by implying that the findings of that investigation will be prejudiced. Evidently, he is doing this at the behest of a state which is a friend and ally. No state, friend or foe, is above the law.

Since becoming Prime Minister, Mr Johnson’s Government has been censured by the U.K. Supreme Court for illegally purporting to prorogue Parliament, and has introduced legislation that it admitted would break an international treaty “in a specific and limited way”. The relevant legislative provisions were later withdrawn, partly as a result of international pressure, but the United Kingdom’s reputation as an upholder of the international rule of law suffered a severe blow.  Unless swiftly corrected, the Prime Minister’s misguided assertions will harm the United Kingdom’s reputation even further.

Too much damage has already been done.

John McHugo
Balfour Project Trustee

Palestinian envoy to UK criticises PM on ICC

The head of the Palestinian mission to the United Kingdom, Husam Zomlot, has made the following statement:

The announcement by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel that the UK opposes the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into war crimes by Israel is deeply regrettable.

It marks a low point in UK-Palestine relations and undermines the UK’s credibility on the international stage.

The letter is a contradiction of international law. It is a contradiction of British policy. It subverts the rules-based global order. And it sets back efforts to secure a lasting and just peace in Palestine.

It is clear that the UK now believes Israel is above the law. There is no other interpretation of a statement that gives carte blanche to Israel to continue its illegal settlement project in occupied territory, and signals to Israel that no matter its actions vis-à-vis the Palestinian people in occupied territory, it will not be held to account.

On the one hand, Prime Minister Johnson claims to support the mission of the ICC. On the other, he seems to argue that its mission cannot extend to Israel because it is a “friend and an ally” of the UK.

Palestine is a signatory to the Rome Statute, and the UK raised no objection at the time. It has every right to pursue claims on behalf of victim of war crimes at the Court.

If Mr Johnson disputes this, he disputes the legitimacy of the Court.

Moreover, he contradicts stated British policy, which is clear that settlements are a violation of international law and therefore a war crime.

The UK has an opportunity to be an important and positive mediator in efforts to secure a lasting peace in line with international law. It has a historic responsibility for the Palestinian people, having been instrumental in creating the problem in the first place.

However, it is undermining any positive part it might play with its systematic, politically motivated recent decisions including this opposition to the ICC investigation as well as its vote at the UN’s Human Rights Council in March against the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and the illegality of settlements.

If Israel is not held responsible for its actions, it has no incentive to comply with international law. If “friends and allies” are exempt from international law, there is no foundation for the rules-based global order.

Mr Johnson’s position rules out any legal avenue to seek redress and accountability for crimes perpetrated against our people, leaving Palestinians to ask: what does the British government expect them to do? 

We sincerely hope the UK will reconsider its position and that in the cold light of day understand that the best option for everyone, including Israel, is a firm commitment to international law and the basic principle of equality for all.

British activists and charities condemn PM statement

UK charities statement on the Prime Minister’s comments on the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation – 14 April 2021

We condemn the Prime Minister’s statement on the ICC’s investigation into alleged grave
crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). This investigation is bringing
victims, survivors and their families one step closer to justice – but political interference by
states, such as the UK, risks pushing that out of reach.

The investigation is the first genuine hope that alleged perpetrators of the most serious
crimes will be held to account for their actions. The ICC is committed to undertaking an
investigation that is “conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or
favour.” Providing impartial justice and ending decades of impunity would bring the prospect
of lasting peace closer and would signal an end to the suffering endured by generations
across the region.

The UK Government could be a bastion of international law and human rights – but instead it
is undermining international criminal proceedings and standing in the way of justice. No
longer can the UK Government genuinely assert that “Promoting international criminal justice
and the rule of law are fundamental elements of the United Kingdom’s foreign policy.”
Rather, the Prime Minister’s statement sets a wholly dangerous precedent by the UK, that
may impact victims of grave crimes and threatens the viability, objectives, and the future of the court itself.

The international community must be consistent in its support for accountability and the rule
of law, regardless of the context. The UK Government should respect the impartiality and
independence of the court, and should support – rather than substantially undermine –
international legal frameworks and judicial mechanisms.

Christian Aid
Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights
Medical Aid for Palestinians
Catholic Agency for Overseas Development
Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU)
Action around Bethlehem Children with Disability (ABCD Bethlehem)
Amos Trust
Friends of Birzeit University
War on Want
Welfare Association
Embrace the Middle East

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