Britain home to nearly 400 war crimes suspects
Senior Saddam officials thought to be among those at large despite calls for action by special Border Agency unit
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* Karen McVeigh
* guardian.co.uk, Friday 4 February 2011 20.15 GMT
* Article history
Saddam Hussein 21/08/2006 Saddam Hussein was executed after his war crimes trial in 2006 but some of his senior officials are believed to reside in Britain. Photograph: Reuters
Hundreds of suspected war criminals are living in Britain, despite recommendations by a UK Border Agency unit that action be taken against them.
A special war crimes unit within the immigration agency has recommended action against 495 individuals in the last five years believed to have taken part in torture, genocide, crimes against humanity or other war crimes.
But, according to figures provided to the all-party parliamentary group on genocide by the agency, only a fifth have been refused entry, removed or have left voluntarily, leaving 383 suspects at large. Allegations against 47 individuals were believed by the agency to merit further investigation by Scotland Yard, police confirmed.
The 383 suspects include 105 from Iraq, 75 from Afghanistan, 73 from Sri Lanka, 39 from Rwanda, 32 from Zimbabwe and 26 from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are believed to include senior officials from Saddam Hussein's regime, a senior Afghan intelligence service official alleged to be involved in torture and a former police chief from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who confessed in a radio interview to overseeing torture.
Despite the introduction of laws to enable more domestic prosecutions of suspected war criminals, not a single case has been prosecuted in the UK courts. There have been no investigations of suspected war criminals since the laws came into force last year, according to the Metropolitan police.
Michael McCann MP, Labour chair of the parliamentary group for the prevention of genocide and other crimes against humanity, said the UK was in limbo over prosecuting suspected war criminals. "We know there are people out there because the UKBA have confirmed the numbers for us," he said. "But it appears that this issue has been put to the bottom of the pile."
He said that suspected war criminals were pursued more vigorously elsewhere, and added: "The biggest problem is the lack of resources dedicated to investigating these serious cases and that we often don't know where these individuals are. It means that if an arrest warrant is issued there is little likelihood it can be served."
There have been just two successful trials for war crimes in Britain since the second world war.
Human rights campaigners are concerned that laws brought in by Jack Straw to close a legal loophole, allowing suspects to be brought to trial for alleged crimes dating back to 1991, are not being used.
Kevin Laue of Redress, which represents torture survivors, said: "There's a lot of talk from the government that Britain should not be a safe haven for war criminals, genocide suspects and other international crimes suspects.
" But unless there's a political will and proper resources to make use of the new law, more prosecutions aren't going to happen, and impunity remains.
"If there are these hundreds of suspects within the UK's borders they should be urgently investigated and, where there is evidence, we would definitely like to see more prosecutions. This would start making the UK a non-safe haven in reality."
The new rules, set out in the Coroners and Justice Act, were widely seen as opening the way for the prosecution of several Rwandan genocide suspects who fled to Britain. Among the most controversial were Charles Munyaneza, Celestin Ugirashebuja, Vincent Bajinya and Emmanuel Nteziryayo.
The four were accused of killing, or conspiring with or aiding and abetting others to kill, members of the Tutsi ethnic group, but successfully appealed against extradition to Rwanda in April 2009, on the ground that they may not get a fair trial in the country. .
Today, a spokesman for the Metropolitan police confirmed that, since the law was introduced, there has been no investigation into the four Rwandans. Asked how many of the 47 cases referred by the UK Border Agency were under investigation and at what stage, the spokesman said: "We do not discuss the number of cases under consideration at any one time."
A spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: "We have been made aware that it is the intention of the Rwandan government to seek extradition when it is in a position to do so." Asked how many cases have been sent to the CPS for advice or prosecution, she said: "In the period February 1992 to January 2011 CPS has had 41 referrals which can be classed as war crimes/crimes against humanity."