Proposals from the justice secretary, Jack Straw, to change the law to enable the prosecution of overseas war criminals and torturers living in Britain for crimes dating back to 1991 fail to go far enough, according to a committee of MPs and peers.
A report from parliament's joint human rights committee published today says the 1991 cut-off date and a requirement that only residents in the UK should face prosecution will leave an "impunity gap" which will allow international war criminals to visit and stay in Britain without fear of prosecution.
The cross-party group of MPs and peers say they "fail to understand the justification" for using 1991 as the cut-off date for prosecution, saying it means that the 1994 Rwandan massacres are covered but not the 1970s Cambodian genocide.
They urge Straw to adopt a date as far back as possible for each offence, with 1948 for genocide and 1949 for war crimes committed during internal armed conflicts.
Andrew Dismore, chairman of the parliament's human rights committee, said: "The UK must not be a safe haven for evil. The message to those who have perpetrated the most heinous crime imaginable must be clear: they are not welcome here – not to visit, not to live, not to holiday, shop or get medical treatment.
"The UK should close these loopholes in the law. We also need to re-establish the specialist war crimes unit. Victims of torture must be able to pursue compensation … We should lead the world in bringing international criminals to justice."
The Aegis Trust, which campaigns against genocide, has said there are significant numbers of suspected war criminals and perpetrators of genocide who are living in the UK or who have visited this country. They include suspects from Rwanda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Congo, Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia.
The committee heard evidence that between 2004 and 2008 the UK border agency refused entry or refugee status to 138 individuals and referred 22 cases to the police. A further 1,863 individuals have been investigated by the immigration authorities for genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity.
The decision to limit the possible prosecution of war criminals to those legally resident in Britain rather than those who are simply visiting or passing through was taken by Straw on the grounds that it was neither attractive or practical to go further.
Sir Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, also voiced concerns, saying that if the proposal was amended to include those who were present on British soil there was a high likelihood of further prosecutions.
The change in the law to enable the prosecution of war criminals is included in the coroners and justice bill, currently going through parliament.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017