Court rejects Gaza war crimes case
Monday 27 July 2009
The High Court has thrown out a legal bid by a Palestinian human rights group to hold the British government to account for its “complicity” in Israeli war crimes in Gaza.
Ramallah-based Al-Haq accused the government of failing in its international legal obligations to stop “aid and trade” with Israel, including supplying arms, following Israeli incursions into Gaza in December and January which led to the deaths of 1,400 Palestinians.
The government argued that, were it to condemn Israel for its actions, it would sour relations between the two states.
This is despite Britain being accused last week at the United Nations, along with other UN members states, of silence over Israel’s continued blockade of the ravaged West Bank region.
Addressing a UN meeting in Geneva last week, general assembly president Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann accused Britain and other member states of “standing silent” while Israel breached UN resolutions calling for an end to the blockade of Gaza.
“With governments and the UN standing mute, unwilling or unable to provide assistance or protection to the people of Gaza,” he said, “international civil society had taken the lead.”
Referring to civilian convoys which deliver aid to the besieged region, often in the face of hostile opposition from the Israeli military, he stated: “The UN would do well to follow that example in bringing pressure to bear on the occupying power.”
He also reminded UN members states of their obligation “to protect any civilian population facing violations of international humanitarian law.”
But today at the High Court in London, a judge ruled that the court was “not competent” to deal with what was an issue involving the government’s foreign policy.
Lord Justice Pill, sitting with Mr Justice Cranston, said that Al-Haq’s claim sought condemnation of Israel and for the courts of England and Wales to decide whether Israel was in breach of its international obligations.
The judge said this was “beyond the competence” of the domestic courts and ruled: “While there may exceptionally be situations in which the court will intervene in foreign policy issues, this case is far from being one of them.”
In his written judgement, Justice Cranston cited Foreign Office claims that granting the application would “imperil amicable relations between states” and that “compelling the government to take a public position on the matters in the claim would risk hindering the UK’s engagement with peace efforts in the Middle East.”
He further concurred with Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who argued that, to allow the case, would mean that any non-governmental organisation anywhere in the world would be able to bring a claim for judicial review in similar circumstances.
But Palestine Solidarity Campaign director of campaigns Sarah Colbourne said: “This ruling does not negate the complicity of the British government in the crimes against the Palestinian people.
“In international law, the government is bound to uphold the rights of the Palestinian people whenever they are violated.”
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said: “The UK takes its domestic and international legal obligations very seriously. We vigorously defended the proceedings and are pleased that the court has agreed with us that the case was wholly inappropriate for resolution by the domestic courts.”