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Amnesty slams UK changes to war crimes laws

Amnesty International Wednesday slammed Britain’s announcement of new measures restricting the issuing of arrest warrants for suspected war criminals and torturers visiting the UK as “dangerous and unnecessary.”

The measures, contained in a new ‘Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill’, make the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before an arrest warrant can be issued in a private prosecution for such offences.

Under current UK law, victims of war crimes, torture and hostage-taking can mount private prosecutions against suspected perpetrators in any country, regardless of nationality or where the crime was committed, under the international rule of universal jurisdiction.

Victims need to meet a high threshold of evidence in order to obtain an arrest warrant and Amnesty said there are no instances of the system being abused or of magistrates issuing arrest warrants based on 'flimsy evidence' – the prevention of which is cited by the UK as justification for the change.

“The current process allows victims of crimes under international law to act quickly against suspected perpetrators who could otherwise enter and leave the UK before police and prosecutors can act, Amnesty said.

This week Tamil activists are examining bringing war crimes charges against Sri Lankan officials, including President Mahinda Rajapaksa.