Tony Benn on Universal Jurisdiction

LONDON – Former British Labour MP and Cabinet Minister Tony Benn reiterated his support for Universal Jurisdiction, a principle in international law which allows the prosecution of suspected war criminals in courts outside their country of origin or residence, during an exclusive interview with Facilitate Global (FG), branding the concept as “a legal prescription of what is a moral principle”.

Benn, who stopped standing for general elections in 2001 to devote more time to peace campaigning, feels that “if an injustice is done by one human being to another then we are responsible for it as members of the human race,” as people would “realise that something will happen if an injustice is done anywhere in the world”.

But the much-respected left-wing figure acknowledged the impact of the strong opposition to Universal Jurisdiction.

“I can imagine there would be many people who would oppose to it on the grounds that it would interfere with national sovereignty or individual rights of courts to adjudicate in matters concerning them and where they live,” he told FG’s  Soraya Boyd.

Nevertheless, Benn, who was once one of the most popular politicians in Britain, dismissed the seriousness of claims that this “very forward-looking” principle could be abused by an “imaginary tyranny of a group of states working together in order to impose some sort of tyranny of a war crimes system”, rejecting the idea that “you cannot do anything about war crimes” should they occur outside a particular country’s jurisdiction.

The former MP, however, stressed that his support for Universal Jurisdiction does not contradict his opposition to the death penalty, adding that “truth and reconciliation are the right way forward”, as advocated by Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, as it is “better to bring out the truth and get people to see that what happened was wrong.”

But he still maintained that “a verdict on war crimes would have a profound effect on public understanding of the importance of international law.”

“If people had to live until they died with the knowledge that they had been convicted of war crimes – even if no punishment applied – that would have an effect of a very profound character,” he added.

With the regards to the pressure exerted by Israel on both the former Labour government and the current Conservative-LibDem coalition to change UK laws so as to avoid having Israeli figures being charged with war crimes in British courts, the fervent anti-war leader stressed the need for public support for Universal Jurisdiction, which he said can be brought about after devoted educational campaigning.

“Whether you are in the suffragettes or in favour of justice of any kind, you always have to go on campaigning”.

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