English AG: International justice must not be ‘proxy for geopolitics’ in Gaza

English AG: International justice must not be 'proxy for geopolitics' in Gaza

Victoria Prentis KC MP

International justice should not “get in the way” of achieving a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza and the international courts should not be used as a “proxy for geopolitics”, the Attorney General for England and Wales has told a major legal conference.

Victoria Prentis KC MP was speaking on the rule of law at the World Bar Conference 2024 in Belfast yesterday morning, alongside Irish legal academic Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin and Ukraine’s war crimes prosecution chief Yuriy Belousov.

Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh KC, the Irish lawyer who is part of South Africa’s legal team in its International Court of Justice (ICJ) proceedings against Israel, was also due to participate in the session but was unable to attend due to what panel chair Peter Coll KC described as “the ultimate diary clash”.

Ms Ní Ghrálaigh was back in The Hague for hearings on South Africa’s latest application for further provisional measures, asking the court to order Israel not to launch a full-fledged ground invasion of Rafah, the southern city where 1.5 million Palestinians — most of them displaced from other parts of Gaza — are sheltering.

Professor Ní Aoláin told the conference that the absence of the rule of law is a major driver of conflict, and that lawyers’ crucial role in upholding the rule of law makes them targets for governments in authoritarian states and backsliding democracies from Russia to Nicaragua.

The wars in Ukraine and Gaza dominated the session, which was open to the media. Mr Belousov said Ukraine’s unwillingness to respond to Russian atrocities with its own atrocities was an important reflection of the country’s desire to be a part of democratic society.

In her opening contribution, Ms Prentis acknowledged that “many of you here will be questioning whether the international community is treating the conflict in Gaza and Israel with the same focus [as Ukraine]”.

“I don’t think we should shy away from this debate,” she continued. “Conferences like this allow us to come together as barristers to discuss challenges exactly such as this.”

She went on to outline the UK’s work “to try and achieve a lasting peace”, which she said would require the release of all Israeli hostages, ending Hamas’ ability to attack Israel, forming a new, non-Hamas Palestinian government in both the West Bank and Gaza and providing a “real political horizon… to a two-state solution”.

“We must be careful, while wanting of course to bring an end to the conflict as soon as possible, that international justice doesn’t get in the way of the goal of achieving a sustainable ceasefire, and is not used as a sort-of proxy for geopolitics,” she said.

The World Bar Conference began on Wednesday and concludes today. Taking place across Belfast and Dublin, conference sessions have explored issues from cancel culture and free speech to AI, migration and the climate crisis, with guest speakers including senior lawyers and judges from a range of jurisdictions.

The conference concludes this evening with a gala dinner to be addressed by justice minister Helen McEntee.

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