Request to maintain a watch list at all UK ports of entry
[9 February 2016] – During the debate on children held in Israeli military detention in the UK Parliament on 6 January 2016, it was recommended that, consistent with the UK’s legal obligations, a watch list should be maintained at all UK ports of entry including the names of all who commit, aid, abet and procure the commission by another person of the unlawful transfer of protected persons – adults and children – from the occupied territories to prisons inside Israel. Assurances were also sought from Tobias Ellwood MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, that any individual on the watch list who attempts to enter the UK should be detained for questioning.
The context for this recommendation is to be found in the legal prohibition against transferring protected persons from occupied territory, including convicted prisoners, contained in Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which both the UK and Israel are parties. However, despite this prohibition, since June 1967 successive Israeli governments have implemented a policy of unlawfully transferring and detaining protected persons that currently affects between 7,000-8,000 individuals annually. There is no dispute of fact that this practice is occurring supported by evidence included in the monthly prison statistics released by the Israeli Prison Service, decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court and statements by relevant officials.
In response to this recommendation, the Under Secretary wrote to the debate’s sponsor, Sarah Champion MP, on 18 January 2016, and informed her that the UK Government does “not have plans to establish a watch list, as you have specified, with a view to bringing prosecutions for war crimes”. The Minister gave two reasons for the Government’s decision:
- Provisions already exist in the UK for prosecuting foreign nationals for war crimes; and
- The Home Secretary has the power to exclude a “war criminal” when it is deemed in the public interest “but this will always be weighed against wider UK interests”.
It is relevant to note that the UK incorporated the obligations contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention into UK law in 1957 and provided that the maximum punishment for those who commit, aid, abet or procure the commission of a grave breach of the Convention, including the unlawful transfer of protected persons, should be 30 years imprisonment. Since June 1967 it is conservatively estimated that at least 350,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been unlawfully transferred from the West Bank and yet under the existing provisions referred to by the Under Secretary, not a single individual has been questioned about possible involvement, let alone charged with an offence.
The failure to question a single suspect in over 48 years for possible involvement in the commission of a war crime of this magnitude suggests that the existing provisions are either manifestly inadequate, or that the UK is systematically turning a blind eye to its international legal obligations in favour of perceived, and largely undisclosed, “wider UK interests”. This policy can only serve to undermine the credibility of the international legal order established following the end of the Second World War to the detriment of all.
- MCW correspondence to the UK Foreign Office re unlawful transfer