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FCO response to unlawful transfer of protected persons
[19 January 2016]  – On 2 December 2015, MCW wrote to the British Consulate in Jerusalem raising concerns about the policy of the Israeli Government of transferring protected persons from the West Bank to prisons inside Israel in violation of its international legal obligations. The UK Government has acknowledged that this policy amounts to a “grave breach” of the Fourth Geneva Convention which carries a maximum penalty of 30 years imprisonment under UK law.
The issue of the unlawful transfer of protected persons from the West Bank was also raised in the UK Parliament during a debate on 6 January 2016 (video / transcript). During the debate it was noted that a delegation of leading UK lawyers and UNICEF both recommended in 2012 and 2013 respectively that Israel must comply with its legal obligations and ensure that no Palestinian detainees, including minors, are transferred out of the West Bank to prisons inside Israel. In spite of these recommendations, the latest data released by the Israeli Prison Service indicates that 56 per cent of minors and 88 per cent of adult Palestinian detainees continue to be transferred out of the West Bank.
During the 90 minute debate, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr. Tobias Ellwood, replied on behalf of the UK Government. Mr. Ellwood noted the five recommendations made by the debate’s sponsor, Sarah Champion MP - which included the recommendation that the UK establish and maintain a watch list at its borders to identify any individual implicated in war crimes so as to ensure that the UK complies with its own legal obligations under the Convention. Mr. Ellwood undertook to respond to Ms. Champion’s recommendations in writing noting that they may contain certain legal implications.
On 19 January 2016, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) responded to MCW’s letter of 2 December 2015 in which unlawful transfer was the only issue raised. The response from the FCO is remarkable only for the fact that the one issue not covered was the one issue raised by MCW – unlawful transfer. The non-responsive nature of the FCO’s correspondence raises some concern as to how committed the current UK Government is to upholding human rights standards and adhering to its own legal obligations under the Convention.
MCW will continue to seek a responsive reply from the FCO in answer to our letter dated 2 December 2015.