Geneva Conventions and United Nations Personnel (Protocols) Bill [ Lords]

Part of Registration of Births and Deaths (Welsh Language) – in the House of Commons at 1:11 pm on 1st April 2009.

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Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 1:11 pm, 1st April 2009

That is certainly the case. My hon. Friend and I have learned from our years in this place that one sometimes has to settle for half a loaf or even less and that one advances little by little towards the state of affairs that one hopes to achieve.

My final set of questions about this element of the Bill concerns the practical impact that it might have on existing UN operations. I am clear in my mind that the Bill is binding on British domestic law in respect of offences committed against UN and associated personnel overseas provided that those operations come within the scope of the original convention or the optional protocol. I am not altogether clear about which current UN operations would be covered by the Bill. Some UN operations are extremely controversial and could give rise to some tricky issues of litigation here.

We all watched with horror some of the events in Gaza in recent months. When, a couple of weeks ago, I met Mr. John Ging, the head of the United Nations operation in Gaza, he told me about shelling that had damaged his headquarters building in the Gaza strip. He also told me about military operations in the near vicinity of schools, or attacks on schools, run by the United Nations. I am deliberately trying to keep my language as neutral as possible because there are conflicting accounts of what happened, who was responsible and whether those actions were deliberate or inadvertent, or were in response to attacks on troops.

The basic point is that the Bill creates new offences in British domestic law in respect of attacks on UN and associated personnel operating overseas. If Gaza, to take the most obvious recent high-profile example, is covered by the scope of the additional protocol and the Bill, it surely follows that allegations could be made in the United Kingdom against individual Israeli political or military leaders. I note that the Bill provides a safeguard in that the Attorney-General must give permission for a prosecution to take place. However, one can well imagine that it would be an extremely controversial decision either to initiate or to deny such a prosecution given how the Bill represents and embodies our commitment to the United Nations and to the duty to protect all its personnel.

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