'UK is safe haven for war criminals'

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Britain has become a "safe haven" for war criminals because the Government has failed to close loopholes that grant them protection under the law, an influential committee of MPs and peers warns today.

The joint committee on human rights has found that inconsistencies in the way the UK applies international law has created an "impunity gap" for international war criminals, allowing them to visit the UK without fear of prosecution. But the committee says anyone in the UK suspected of war crimes now should be investigated and, where appropriate, brought to trial.

"The message must be clear: no international criminal is welcome here – not to shop, holiday, receive medical treatment, study, live, or visit," the report says.

Loopholes at the moment include the requirement that a suspect must be resident in the UK, meaning someone merely visiting cannot be prosecuted. The committee further recommends victims of torture should have the right to sue foreign governments for damages through British courts. This could open the door for former Guantanamo detainees who claim they were tortured by the Americans to bring cases against the US in before the High Court in London. That would require a change of the law governing state immunity.

Committee members urged the Government to support a Bill being introduced in the Commons which has been backed by a former Lord Chief Justice. Committee chairman Andrew Dismore MP said: "We should lead the world in bringing international criminals to justice."