Jack Straw unveils plans for genocide reform

Justice Secretary wants to extend the scope of the International Criminal Court Act 2001 and prosecu

Agents of recent genocides may no longer be able to use Britain as a safe haven, under new proposals unveiled by Jack Straw this week.

The International Criminal Court Act 2001 only allowed for the prosecution of those accused of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity following its adoption into law. But the Justice Secretary is proposing that the scope of the Act be extended to include those accused of 90s atrocities, such as the massacres in Rwanda.

He said: 'We must send a clear signal that the UK is no safe haven for those who commit them. Those who have committed genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity over the last two decades must not escape justice.'

The proposed amendment will come as welcome news to human rights campaigners. The Aegis Trust, which campaigns to prevent genocide, recently identified that there were 'significant numbers' of suspected war criminals and génocidaires who had either visited or were resident in the UK.

Under the new proposals, it may be possible for a range of prosecutions to be brought. This could include action against two men named by the Rwandan government as amongst the 100 most wanted suspects of the genocide. An investigation by the Guardian in 2006, found that the pair, both mayors of towns in southern Rwanda, were living in comfortable seclusion in Bedford and Essex respectively.

The campaign for reform of these laws is unlikely to stop here, however.

There are currently no plans to change the categories of people covered by the legislation, which covers only UK nationals and residents. This will mean that those 'visiting' but not 'resident in' the UK, such as asylum seekers, tourists and business travellers will be exempt. This is out-of-step both with current torture legislation, and with the laws of other countries such as Canada, which considers suspects to be eligible on the basis of 'presence'.

Nor would anyone participant in crimes occurring before 1st January 1991 be covered. This would exclude, for example, exclude anyone involved in the Cambodian genocide between 1975-1979.