UK votes against UN war crimes inquiry

Dominic Raab

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab demonstrated his knack of saying the right thing but doing the exact opposite. He visited Israel and Palestine after the Gaza ceasefire and talked about the “urgent need .. to break the cycle of violence”. But at the same time the UK voted against the inquiry into war crimes at the UN.

UK Ambassador votes against UN inquiry

His ambassador at the UN in Geneva cast the UK’s vote against allowing the United Nations to hold an inquiry to “investigate the underlying root causes of the conflict”. 

This comes soon after Boris Johnson’s quirky decision in April to oppose the International Criminal Court’s investigation into possible war crimes by Israel and para-militaries. He acted just after the Court’s Judgement upholding the investigation – having said nothing when the UK had the opportunity to raise an objection. 

So for the second time in a few weeks the UK’s Middle East policy swings even further in defence of the Israeli Government.

Why did the UK vote against the UN inquiry?

Until the Foreign Office issues an official explanation of the vote, it will remain a mystery why the Government decided to vote against a UN inquiry. The motion was passed with 24 votes in favour, nine against and 14 abstentions with most European countries, including France, Poland, the Netherlands and Denmark, voting to abstain. 

The UK joined the countries with a history of supporting Israel through thick and thin, such as Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, in the against column.

In his speech the UK’s ambassador, Simon Manley, stuck to the formula used by the Foreign Secretary of condemning Hamas rockets but not condemning Israel’s airstrikes, just saying they should be “consistent with the principles of distinction, proportionality, humanity and necessity”.

Over recent years the UK position has shifted and the UK is now one of the Israeli government’s most dedicated defender among the 47 states on the UN Human Rights Council.

In 2016 the UK abstained on a vote to compile a UN database of companies trading with settlements despite the fact that the UK Government “neither supports nor encourages” trade with settlements and regards them as “illegal”.

In 2018 the UK abstained on a vote to hold a UN inquiry into protests on the Israel-Gaza border despite the evidence that Israeli army snipers had shot 6,392 unarmed Palestinian protestors – mainly teenage boys – in the legs.

UK’s ban on Item 7 agenda items

In 2019 the UK declared it would vote against any motion critical of Israel, regardless of what it said, if it came up under Item 7 on the UN Human Rights Council agenda – an item reserved for motions about Israel.

Conservative MP Scott Benton spoke iin the Commons last week in support of the Govenment’s blanket ban on motions under item 7, saying they were part of an “anti-Israel obsession”.  No condemnations had been adopted on China, Russia, Pakistan, Venezuela or other serial human rights abusers, he said.

But there is nothing to stop Human Rights council member countries from tabling motions. There have been standing agenda item in the United Nations for many years – for 26 years against apartheid in South Africa and for 15 years against the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. 

The UK’s Middle East minister James Cleverly confirmed in the Commons last week that this ban is still in place. “In March 2019, the UK adopted a principled approach in which we voted against all resolutions tabled under item 7. The UK will continue to push for the abolition of agenda item 7.”

However, when the Palestinian Authority moved its 2018 resolution on Gaza border protests from item 7 to item 2 on the agenda, the UK did briefly consider voting in favour– but decided in the end to abstain.

The UK’s stance against the UN war crimes inquiry is another blow to a Rule of Law based approach.

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