On 26th October 2009, the campaign secured another victory when the second loophole was effectively closed. Following concerted lobbying from the Aegis Trust, a coalition of peers and leading legal figures, the Government tabled a fresh amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill that will help close the legal loophole which has in the past allowed genocide and war crimes suspects to visit the UK or live here for years without fear of prosecution.
The loophole exists due to the fact that current UK legislation on genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity applies only to people who are legally defined as resident in the UK. This does not include anyone on student, business, tourist, academic or skilled / domestic worker visas, or anyone who has been refused asylum under Article 1F(a) of the Refugee Convention but who cannot be returned home for fear of persecution.
Under the Government's new amendment however, all those who have leave to enter the UK to work or study, and anyone seeking asylum or who has been refused asylum but cannot be returned home, would be considered legally resident for the purposes of this legislation. A provision has also been added to include 'any individual who is in lawful custody in the United Kingdom', for example a person who has been detained under immigration powers or following a declaration by the Home Secretary that their presence in the UK was 'not conducive to the public good'.
'I am grateful to those who have campaigned for the change and raised it for debate in the context of the Coroners and Justice Bill. I met John Bercow and Mary Creagh from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Genocide Prevention in May and they made a very powerful case for the inclusion of genocide as an extra-territorial offence within our law. Since then I have consulted widely with colleagues about the best way to proceed, and this announcement is the result of those discussions.' Rt. Hon Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for Justice, speaking about the government's proposed changes to the law on genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity and paying tribute to the Aegis co-ordinated All Party Parliamentary Group on Genocide Prevention, July 7th 2009
'This is a very important piece of legislation. I am overjoyed that the government has closed this legal loophole. In Rwanda in 2006 I met women whose families had been murdered in the genocide there. As soon as I realised there was a gap in UK law I knew I had to act. I thank the justice secretary for taking action and I pay tribute to the Aegis Trust which has worked tirelessly on this issue for many years.' Mary Creagh MP, speaking about the successful Aegis Trust led campaign to close loop-holes in British law on international crimes, July 2009
'I was delighted ..... to hear the commitment that Mr Straw gave to seeing that a change was made in the law. This is a very good example of where the Government have listened carefully to representations made, not just within your Lordships' House but to groups such as the Aegis Trust.' Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool, speaking during the House of Lords debate on the Aegis Trust amendments to the Justice and Coroners Bill, July 2009
'We are dealing now with the extraordinarily important and grave issues of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. I wish to express my thanks to those other noble Lords whose names appear on the Marshalled List, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who has been an enormously wise adviser on this matter, and the Aegis Trust, which has done a tremendous amount of work in briefing Members of the House' Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, speaking during the Lords debate on the Coroners and Justice Bill, October 2009
'I should like to add that we are extremely grateful to the Government for having been so patient in listening to our concerns and, indeed, for having moved so far in meeting them. We are of course also indebted to the organisations that have provided consistent and expert advice: the Aegis Trust, Redress, JUSTICE and African Rights' Baroness D'souza, speaking during the Lords debate on the Coroners and Justice Bill, October 2009
Background to the Campaign
Before this campaign there were loopholes in UK law which meant, in effect, that certain people suspected of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity and found on UK soil could not be deported or prosecuted in British courts. In practice this meant that:
- Until the Government's announcement on 7th July 2009, suspected Rwandan or Bosnian genocidaires resident in the UK could not be tried for genocide- only for torture and hostage taking - because only acts of genocide committed after 2001 can be prosecuted in the UK. This issue was most clearly illustrated by the cases of four men suspected of helping to coordinate the Rwandan genocide, who recently won their High Court battle to prevent extradition to Rwanda on fair trial grounds. These four men have now been released and until the government's announcement, could not be tried for their crimes in the UK.
- Until the Government's announcement on 26th October 2009 Sudanese suspected of war crimes in Darfur 2003/4 visiting the UK, or Zimbabweans suspected of crimes against humanity can not be tried unless they are UK residents. 'Residence', however, was not clearly defined in UK law. The Government has now defined residence to include all those who have leave to enter the UK to work or study, and anyone seeking asylum or who has been refused asylum but cannot be returned home. A provision has also been added to include 'any individual who is in lawful custody in the United Kingdom', for example a person who has been detained under immigration powers or following a declaration by the Home Secretary that their presence in the UK was 'not conducive to the public good'. The Aegis Trust would have preferred to have seen the government switch to a simple 'presence' requirement for prosecution of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but the Government's amendment was the result of a hard-fought battle by Peers to get the Government to shift on the issue.
Watch this Aegis Trust film to find out more about those gaps in UK law on genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity that existed before the campaign and what they meant in practice:
The Home Office has revealed that since the beginning of 2004, the War Crimes team in the Border Agency has investigated 1863 individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Currently around 600 cases are investigated each year. It is not clear how many suspects are now living in this country. Some of those investigated will have been cleared. Others may have been deported, removed or refused entry into the UK. However, some may still be present in the UK. Over the last few years, the following suspects have been found in the UK:
- 5 Rwandans suspected of genocide. One has been transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, four are currently fighting their extradition from the UK to Rwanda;
- 2 suspects from the former Yugoslavia;
- 1 Afghan warlord, who was convicted of torture and hostage taking;
To find out more about UK law on international crimes and Aegis' recommendations to strengthen the law in this area, you can read our reports: 'Suspected war criminals and genocidaires in the UK: Proposals to strengthen UK law' and 'Enforcement of International Criminal Law'.