Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:34 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:34 | SYDNEY

UK war law reform: NB McClelland


Fergus Hanson


28 July 2009 11:39

There have been some interesting developments in the UK this month on war crimes. This followed 'an outcry over a High Court decision in April not to send four Rwandans resident in the UK back to their home country to face prosecution.'

Under the proposals announced by Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, 'the law which bars charges relating to any war crime, act of genocide or crime against humanity committed before 2001 will be changed to allow prosecutions for atrocities committed since 1 January 1991'. Australia has equally large gaps in its legislation with the above crimes not properly covered by Australian law except for atrocities committed after 2002. 

Introducing retrospective legislation is frowned upon, however, Straw argued 'This exceptional step has been made possible by the fact these types of crime were recognised in international law before our own law came into force.'

The current government has long-recognised the gaps in Australia's war crimes legislation. And in its 2007 National Platform stated:

There are major gaps in Australia’s domestic laws that allow such accused [war] criminals to enter and live here without fear of prosecution. Labor is committed to meeting Australia’s international human rights obligations by closing these loopholes. 

Unfortunately, when the Australian Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, was asked about efforts to implement these commitments at a talk he gave at the Lowy Institute in May he said 'I haven't asked for, or been provided with, a report on those other issues [gaps in Australia's legislation relating to war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide]'. He did promise to look into the issue though.

The same scandal that befell the UK, could easily be repeated in Australia, again. The UK initiative should provide further impetus for the government to follow through with its election pledge.

Photo by Flickr user ectomorfo, used under a Creative Commons license.