Comment: Nick Clegg, human rights, Palestine and amnesia

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Gareth Epps‘, 2010 Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Reading East and new member of the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee, recent post on his blog:

In the past, Nick Clegg has unequivocally condemned the blockade of Gaza, called for the EU/Israel Association Agreement to be suspended.

Now, he’s making speeches saying he got it wrong on Israel, speaking to pro-Israeli audiences while giving Palestinian campaigners the cold shoulder (see and is about to author a change in the Universal Jurisdiction law to protect human rights abusers including representatives of the Israeli regime from attempts to bring them to justice.

I have raised at senior level the dangers of this stance, which runs the risk of unpicking years of carefully balanced and thought-out statements on Israel/Palestine (which in my view and that of many others could have gone a lot further in criticising discrimination and flagrant breaches of international law by successive Israeli governments, which have pandered to and increasingly contain people with outrageous extremist views).

We know that the Conservatives of the major political parties have the most one-dimensional view of this conflict, and will take the side of Israel. That does not legitimise the stance the Coalition government is taking on a fundamental issue of human rights. Rather than believe the spin that the change is ‘technical’, as I have been told by senior Liberal Democrats, I think it’s right to go public on this. Call it Conservative influence in Government, call it what you want, but Universal Jurisdiction is supposed to ensure that there is no hiding place for war criminals. The change of law has been condemned by a cluster of human rights groups including Amnesty who say it “will undermine the capacity of victims of serious international crimes to hold accountable alleged perpetrators who come within the UK’s jurisdiction by making all arrest decisions in such cases subject to political considerations rather than being based on the legal merits. Suspects may therefore find a safe haven in the UK, and the already considerable barriers to bringing such suspects to justice will be heightened.

“Instead of making it more difficult to arrest with a view to prosecuting such suspects, the UK should be seeking to enhance its capacity to do so, and mooted legislative changes are a step entirely in the wrong direction.”

There is no political sense in Nick Clegg pandering to the friends of the Israeli regime. These are people who are not Liberals and who would never consider voting for a party that gives the other side the time of day. He will gain no votes. Indeed, he will lose credibility among the many people such as myself who believe that the Palestinian people are long overdue justice, not collective punishment.

Oh, and Nick? If you’re really serious about being even-handed, then maybe you could answer positively to requests to speak to Lib Dem Friends of Palestine. It’s only fair.

Please contact Gareth to thank and congratulate him for this statement…

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