The UK has a long history of judicial avoidance when it comes to international justice, despite ratifying the 1948 Genocide Convention. This section seeks to outline some of that history. There is an overview of the UK and war crimes from 1945, together with UK parliamentary debates on the issue from when the issue first came into public view in the 1980s regarding the Nazi war criminals who had made homes in the UK post World War Two. There are media exposes and opinions on the issues raised, information and reports on the (mostly feeble) efforts to bring such war criminals to court, and on the changes to the law in 1991 and 2009 which have still, sadly, resulted in very little judicial action.
This is a sorry story of judicial and government failure of the very worst kind. Nowhere is the failure of the UK government to bring genocide suspects before justice more apparent than in the case of 5 Rwandans, who have lived quiet lives here, some at taxpayers expense, for two decades. They have successfully argued against extradition over 11 years, and have since 2017 carried on legally untroubled by the terrible crimes they are alleged to have committed.
Over the years since the issue of war criminals living in the UK first came to public attention in the mid 1980s, a number of reports and books have been published by academics, journalists and NGOs (e.g. Aegis Trust and REDRESS) setting out the legal, moral and political issues and the cost to the UK if the government continues its long-term policy of impunity. Sadly, despite such analysis – best summarised by the late historian David Cesarani – no concrete action has resulted.
The UK Houses of Commons and Lords have, since the mid 1980s, conducted a number of high-profile debates on changing the law to allow war criminals to be prosecuted (notably 1988-1991, 2009), and to debate quite how the 5 Rwandan suspects – and hundreds of others like them – have still to find themselves in a court of law. The debates make interesting reading. All-party war crimes groups (listed) have formed over the years to try to push the issue, with governments inevitably giving bland verbal reassurances of action.
Of the hundreds of suspected war criminals and genocidaire who have made the UK their home during the past 80 years, many were former Holocaust perpetrtors. A number were named, and a very few were then actively investigated after new legislation was passed in 1991. Only one was ever successfully prosecuted (Sawoniuk). The others, such as Serafinowicz, Gecas, Chrzanowski, Kalejs and Husak died peacefully in their beds legally untroubled by their murderous pasts. This section includes some media reports about them.
The UK media – especially print and broadcast – have been sporadically active in tracking suspected genocidaire resident in the UK, pressing the government into law changes – notably 1991 and 2009 – to enable legal action against them, and reporting FOI findings on the issue. None have shown a consistent line over the years in campaigning for police and judiciary to be fully resourced, or for the UK to show leadership in tackling the growing problem of war criminals setting up new lives in the west/UK.
A number of Freedom of Information and other reports based on official government statistics have been reported by the media. They show a consistent issue over many years with hundreds of suspected war criminals having settled in the UK, but authorities being unable or unwilling to take action to remove them or initiate legal proceedings against them. Little is known about those individuals placed under official investigation by Police or Home Office but against whom no action is ever known to be forthcoming.