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War Crimes

Volume 712: debated on Tuesday 30 June 2009

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the High Court judgment on 8 April that four Rwandans suspected of genocide could not be extradited from the United Kingdom to Rwanda, how many suspected war criminals and persons convicted of genocide are living in the United Kingdom; and against how many of those action has been taken.

My Lords, the Government are clear that individuals who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity should not be given a safe haven in the United Kingdom. We screen immigrant applicants for involvement in war crimes. Since April 2004, the war crimes team of the UK Border Agency has considered 2,869 cases. It has recommended refusal of asylum or other immigration status in 421 cases and referred 30 cases to the Metropolitan Police.

My Lords, many people will be extremely surprised to know that people suspected of war crimes are in this country at all. What are the Government doing about those people who entered this country prior to 2004 who may be guilty of war crimes?

My Lords, as I said, this country should not provide a safe haven. That also requires us to look at ways in which we can ensure it. The Government are considering whether our own law can be strengthened. Information on the number of suspected war criminals can be collected only through international co-operation, NGOs and many other parts of the community. At present, we do not have that information to hand.

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the problem of those who are known to be war criminals, but what about those who come in clandestinely or when we do not know their background of potential war crimes? How does he respond to the dilemma that most of those accused of war crimes by definition come from countries where we have doubts about their legal system? Is there not a danger that this judgment will give a signal to those guilty or suspected of war crimes that they have only to come to this country, clandestinely or otherwise, to find safe haven?

My Lords, that is why we have screened applicants for involvement in war crimes since 2004. That screening process looks at countries of origin, the perpetrators of conflict, and the areas and types of conflict. It is also why we are looking at whether we can strengthen UK law.

My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for recent conversations which some of us have had with Ministers concerning potential changes in our own law relating to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, may I remind him of the introduction into the United States Senate only last week of a crimes against humanity Bill? That Bill provides for jurisdiction founded not on residence but on presence. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are looking sympathetically at potential changes in UK law of a similar effect to ensure that the United Kingdom is not a safe haven for war criminals?

My Lords, we remain certain that tackling crimes of genocide and other such atrocities requires international co-operation. The Government will continue to work with other countries, of course including the United States and the European Union, to ensure that criminal justice systems around the world are designed to deal with cases of this nature. We also consider the role of international institutions in these matters. I have no personal knowledge of the matter before the Senate in the United States, but it is clear that it would be of both interest and education in terms of what we are seeking to do in this country.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the most recent case in the High Court has advertised pretty widely that there is a loophole in our legislation and has therefore made the risk of this country being seen as a safe haven for these people considerably greater? There is therefore surely great urgency to the Government making up their mind and using legislation currently before this House as a means of blocking that loophole.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that the result in the High Court is likely to be a form of encouragement for some; we are seeking for our screening to be a deterrent for others. However, as the noble Lord said, there are amendments to the Coroners and Justice Bill to be discussed next week which will encourage debate around this whole subject. I am sure that it will be both educational and informative.

My Lords, does the Minister think that the Human Rights Act might have some bearing on the interpretation of these cases and, if this is the case, was it ever envisaged that the Human Rights Act could be used in this way?

My Lords, the Human Rights Act is a very valuable piece of legislation which we conform to. It occasionally provides judgments which we might not find politically convenient or in the best interests of ourselves as a single nation. They are, however, judgments in the best interests of humanity. As the Human Rights Act protects people in law, I do not believe we should disagree with it.

My Lords, while I do not disagree with what the Minister has just said, I wonder whether he would deal with the questions put to him by my noble friend and by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. Essentially, they are asking whether the Government will be sympathetic to plugging the loophole in some form of amendment in the pending Bill.

My Lords, I will resist the temptation to move in that direction, other than to say that there have been quite wide discussions with the Minister, my noble friend Lord Bach, who is carrying forward the legislation in this House. The Government are actively considering a way to move forward in strengthening UK law and I am sure that next week’s debate will be illuminating.

My Lords, when dealing with suspected war criminals, what consideration is given to the human rights of those against whom the crimes have been perpetrated?

My Lords, there is a danger of drawing moral judgments in situations where we do not have all the information and knowledge to hand. We are outraged by what we can clearly see is genocide in Rwanda and other countries but we have a legal system which requires us to conform to providing evidence, which is difficult; and to having a prosecution which can be successful, which is difficult. We also have an independent judiciary who will judge whether deportation, as in this case, will take people to a country where they will get a fair trial, where witnesses will be protected and where the human rights of each individual will be protected.

My Lords, can the legislation that the Minister is contemplating be retrospective so that we can get rid of the Rwandan war criminals and any others who may be sheltering in our territory?

My Lords, the Liberal Democrat Benches often tempt me. On three occasions they have tempted me. Over the years in this House, fascinated as I am by the Liberal Democrat contributions, I have learned to resist temptation.