On 28 November 2016 an international legal and academic event took place at the University of London, London School of Economics in the United Kingdom.
Over 700 Passengers of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla were attacked by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in international waters in the early hours of the 31 May 2010, resulting in 10 passengers being killed on the civilian ship of Mavi Marmara and over 50 seriously injured. The passengers had joined the Flotilla to assist in delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza. Over 10 years on the search and struggle for justice and accountability for these horrific crimes committed against innocent people is ongoing.
The main theme of the event was that the principles of universal jurisdiction and international justice are increasingly advocated, especially by non-state actors seeking accountability and justice, while states continue to push back in the name of sovereignty and political immunity. Israel and Turkey have recently in June 2016 signed an inter-state agreement to put an end to the adjudication of criminal and civil actions by victims of the killings and other serious violations aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and Mavi Marmara aid ship in May of 2010. On 2 December 2016 the High Criminal Court in Istanbul convenes to decide whether the criminal case in Turkey should continue. The panel discussed the implications of this agreement as well as ongoing legal struggle on behalf of the victims of the Flotilla and asked whether it is true that, even in our globalized world, states can still get away with not holding perpetrators of serious international crimes to account.
The event was chaired by Professor Gerry Simpson, Chair in Public International Law at LSE. The speakers at the panel were Rodney Dixon QC of Temple Garden Chambers, instructed by Stoke and White LLP in representing UK and other victims as well as the government of Comoros on the Flotilla and Mavi Marmara at the ICC, UK and USA. Dr John Chalcraft, Associate Professor in the History and Politics of Empire/Imperialism, LSE Department of Government, Alexandra Lort-Phillips, a British civilian on board Mavi Marmara, Ahmet Dogan, father of Furkan Dogan who was an 18 year old passenger killed on Mavi Marmara and Ali Emrah Bozbayindir, Associate Professor of International Law & International Criminal Law & Assistant Dean at the Istanbul S. Zaim University in Istanbul, Turkey.
Rodney Dixon QC laid out the rationale and background to universal jurisdiction in general, and whether it is under treat in the light of this recent agreement between Turkey and Israel. He stated that the universal jurisdiction is imperilled with this agreement which exonerate persons responsible for the commission of serious international crimes and frees them from accountability. He emphasised that a decision by Turkish court to discontinue legal proceedings in terms of the agreement would violate the rule of international law, be in conflict with a peremptory norms and would also violate the right of the victims to access to justice. He further highlighted the ongoing legal cases outside Turkey such as the cases at the ICC, USA and the UK and the negative implications of ceasing of criminal proceedings in Turkey.
The issues of international laws and universal jurisdiction were further emphasises by Dr. Ali E Bozbayindir who expanded on the possible legal avenues that may be open to the victims of the Flotilla attack, both in Turkey and outside, such as bringing a case at the European Court of Human Rights as well as providing and explanation of legal issues and process in Turkey.
Ahmet Dogan talked about his son’s journey and fatal fate and voiced the suffering of his family. He spoke of the unrelenting efforts to seek justice for the crimes, which he described as crimes against humanity, committed against his son and other passengers of the Flotilla, battering against closed doors, but also finding solidarity among local and transnational networks.
Alexandra Lort-Phillips, gave the perspective of an ordinary civilian who undertook the flotilla work in the first place, their motivation and rationales. She spoke of the sufferings she and other fellow passengers were subjected to and asked for accountability and justice the crimes committed.
Dr. John Chalcraft stated that it is entirely false, misplaced and prejudicial to apply the doctrine of political immunity to dismiss the adjudication which is one of the arguments being forward to in the US legal case commenced by Ahmet Dogan for the death of his son Furkan. He said that the smokescreen of political immunity in this case turns out to be just that – irrelevant to the legal process at stake in the case. He pointed out that we must guard against the significant danger of the outsize and prejudicial application of political immunity to exclude adjudication on cases where fundamental human rights are in play.