Amal Clooney: Reform law to boost UK prosecutions of genocide and war criminals

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Amal Clooney has said UK laws must be reformed to prevent Russian war criminals and perpetrators of genocide visiting the country without fear of prosecution.

The human rights lawyer wants genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes to be prosecuted in the UK regardless of the suspect’s nationality or residence.

MPs have warned the International Criminal Court Act 2001 currently only applies to such crimes either committed in England or Wales, or outside the UK by a UK national, a UK resident or a person subject to UK service jurisdiction.

Mr O’Hara added the accused person or victim would not need to have any specific connection to the UK.

Concerns have been expressed that Russian generals responsible for atrocities in Ukraine could still travel to the UK without facing the risk of arrest unless the reforms are introduced.

The Clooney Foundation for Justice and Redress, co-founded by Ms Clooney and her actor husband George Clooney, is expected to release a report later this year on the issue.

Ms Clooney told the PA news agency: “National courts around the world can put war criminals on trial.

“But in the UK genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes can only be prosecuted if the suspect is a resident or national of the UK. And only two trials for international crimes have resulted in convictions.

“It is time to reform our laws so that Russian war criminals can be arrested at Heathrow – and perpetrators of genocide know there is no safe haven on UK shores.”

UK Parliament portraits
SNP MP Brendan O’Hara (David Woolfall/UK Parliament)

He told MPs: “In short, this Universal Jurisdiction (Extension) Bill is about saying to the world’s worst criminals that there is no hiding place and there will be no immunity.”

Mr O’Hara added: “As the Clooney Foundation for Justice report will set out, our courts already have universal jurisdiction when it comes to torture and certain other crimes which can be prosecuted regardless of the defendant’s nationality.

“So there is no convincing explanation for the distinction that’s drawn between the law on torture and those other international crimes.

“And, as they say, one consequence of this loophole could well be that Russian generals with blood on their hands could potentially still travel to the UK, go shopping in Knightsbridge, undergo medical treatment and dine out in London’s best restaurants without facing the risk of arrest for the most serious and heinous crimes in the world.

“They argue this must change and I wholeheartedly agree.”

Mr O’Hara asked for his Bill to be considered further at second reading on November 24 although it is unlikely to make progress in its current form due to a lack of parliamentary time.

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