International Criminal Court Bill [Lords]

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Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): There are several concerns about the provisions being debated. I want to address my remarks to my hon. Friend the Minister, but I note that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough has opposed, in a tortuous manner, something that he and his party supported previously. I cannot but wonder what is the reason behind that. I hope that it is not a shallow one; perhaps there has been a genuine change of heart.

Mr. Garnier: On a point of order, I cannot hear a word that the hon. Lady is saying. I do not intend to be aggressive, but would the hon. Lady be good enough to speak up?

The Chairman: I am sure that the hon. Lady will take account of that.

Mrs. Ellman: I shall now make the remarks that I wanted to address to my hon. Friend the Minister.

The importance of the ICC is that it will bring individuals to account for the conduct of heinous crimes. The provisions that we are debating focus on war crimes. Among the definitions of war crimes are rape, sexual slavery, extermination, and subjecting people to medical, scientific and biological experiments. Can the Minister envisage a successful ICC prosecution conducted solely on the basis of transfer by an occupying power of some of its civilian population voluntarily? Could that, rather than the scale, nature or activities of the occupation, bring about a successful prosecution per se, without considering context, degree or circumstances, or the impact of such activity on possible resolution of the conflict between the peoples concerned? These are relevant points, and I ask the Minister to address them when he replies.

Mrs. Gillan: I look forward to reading the Hansard report of the hon. Lady's speech. Like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough, I think that the acoustics in the Room debilitate the voices of Members at the back of it. I apologise if I do not pick up on any of the hon. Lady's points, even though they were directed to the Minister. I hope that she forgives my impoliteness.

The Government invited submissions, and I want to use the amendments as a vehicle to explore one made to them by the Board of Deputies of British Jews. I am grateful to Mr. Simon Plosker of the board, to whom I have spoken. The board responded to the consultation. Perhaps I have missed something, or perhaps the document given to me by the Library is imperfect, but it appears to have been omitted from annex A, which lists individuals and organisations that contributed comments on the draft ICC Bill. There may be an easy explanation—perhaps the board's comments were made too late—but I would like clarification of the reason why the board's response was missed. I cannot find reference to what it said either. The Minister will obviously receive inspiration from others.

I propose not a personal view but the view of the board, and I hope to scrutinise the thinking of the Minister on this part of the Bill. Israel has signed up to the statute and no doubt approves the principle behind it, as does everyone else. Even though the country had a different Government during the Rome negotiations, the current violence means that there is even more worry about the use of the ICC as a weapon against Israel. I want to use the amendments to explore the possible politicisation of the ICC.

The board was established in 1760, so it has an authoritative voice in the representation of the Jewish community in Britain. Its views need to be taken into consideration. I know that it has good links with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The board seeks the well-being of Jews throughout the world, and it has an international division to work on that aim, as I am sure that the Minister is aware.

When my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough moved the amendment, he said that the statute no doubt had its origins and foundations in the Nuremburg trials, which brought the Nazi war criminals to justice for their part in the genocide of more than 6 million Jews in Europe. The board has highlighted some fears about the nature of the ICC. Its concerns are our concerns, so I look to the Minister to allay them and speak the mind of the Government.

The board's chief concern is the possible politicisation of the ICC. That goes back to the Rome conference, when Egypt and Syria moved to include certain words in the statute. I am sure that the Minister is familiar with them. I refer to the words:

    ``The transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory''.

Under the jurisdiction of the ICC, such an act would become a war crime. No country was mentioned by name when that was proposed, but there was great feeling about it. I am sure that the Minister will be able to tell us, from the reports of our negotiators at the time, that that was a thinly veiled attack on the sovereignty of the state of Israel and an attempt to give the ICC jurisdiction over the then Israeli Government's settlement policy. It is only fair to that that must have been one of the prime motivators that caused Israel not to follow where others had led; it must have felt that a concerted attack was being made on its actions, whether justified or not. I do not seek to justify or criticise, but I believe that if any country should have signed or subscribed to the statute, it should have been Israel, especially in view of the history of the Jewish people, most recently during the past century in Europe.

If the ICC becomes politicised, its very legitimacy will be called into question. If we are to have a court that people will look to; if we are to have a court that will attract legitimacy and command respect from all parts of the world, whether civilised or not; if we are to create something that will eventually serve the entire world, it must be seen to be a non-political body and not prone to politicisation. I am sure that there is no difference between the Government and the Opposition on that.

Mr. Battle: Absolutely.

Mrs. Gillan: I am pleased to hear that the Minister agrees.What safeguards are there to reassure me that that element of politicisation will not occur?

In its submission, the board expressed concern that the court could become a political tool to be used by states in dispute. I rely on the context of the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in saying that it was theoretically possible for either side to demand the trial of national leaders in the event of an incident that led to violence or death. The board expressed great fear that that would result in a tit-for-tat scenario, which would discredit the court and damage the prospects for peaceful negotiations between two parties—to all intents and purposes, a truth and conciliation process.

We may want to discuss that later, because I am sure that both sides want to make sure that we are not creating a monster by alienating states and preventing a truth and reconciliation process. As with Pepper v. Hart, I believe that if the Committee can reach an understanding that the Bill would not exclude the sort of truth and reconciliation process that took place in South Africa, it would be of comfort not only to the Opposition, but to the Government. We do not want to damage the prospect of peaceful negotiations between protagonists.

The board concluded, fairly, that it was broadly in favour of the ICC and the principles behind it; that is exactly our position. However, concern permeates the board's submission—and many of the Opposition's deliberations—that a political agenda will be pursued through the court. The amendments are a vehicle through which we seek the Minister's views.

As recently as yesterday, our minds were focused on the politicisation of courts. The Minister is doubtless a great reader of The Times, and we have already spoken about Scotland, but the newspaper contains a report about Hans Koechler, an expert on international law who acted as a United Nations observer at the Lockerbie trial. He condemned the proceedings of that trial as inconsistent, irrational and politically motivated, if the report by Gillian Harris, the Scotland correspondent for The Times, is to be believed. I have no reason to doubt the report, because those words were echoed by Mr. Koechler when speaking at a conference at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo.

Mr. Cranston: He is a professor of philosophy.

Mrs. Gillan: The Solicitor-General is quite right, but Mr. Koechler was also one of five UN observers at the trial. He said:

    ``You cannot come out with a verdict of guilty for one and innocent for the other when they were both being tried with the same evidence. In my opinion there seemed to be considerable political influence on the judges and the verdict.''

That Professor Koechler is a professor of philosophy is irrelevant; he is in a position to make an announcement on the world stage about a court that we spent much time and effort setting up. It is to the Government's credit that they did so. None the less, those were Professor Koechler's remarks.

4.30 pm

I am also keen to cite the remarks of the spokesman for the Crown Office in Edinburgh who, according The Times report said that Professor Koechler's views were based on a

    ``complete misunderstanding of the function and independence of the judiciary.''

He added:

    ``In particular, he misunderstands that in Scotland, as in other English-speaking systems, criminal proceedings are adversarial, that is, involving a contest between prosecution and defence rather than an inquiry carried out by judges.''

The spokesman for the Crown Office is to be congratulated on—

Mr. Garnier: Not being a professor of philosophy.

Mrs. Gillan: Certainly on that, but also on his robust defence of the system that we set up. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the matter, the trial has caused political fallout and there is a disagreement on the particular trial process used. That should ring alarm bells. We established that court in good faith, in a spirit of fairness and after much negotiation, to bring to trial two people who were allegedly responsible for a heinous and terrible crime. Although we know that there was no political aspect to the court's deliberations, on the world stage it was suspected of being politicised.

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