Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim to serve in the UK Cabinet, has resigned from her position as a senior minister in the Foreign Office, saying the government’s stance on the conflict in Gaza was “morally indefensible”.
Warsi, a Pakistani-origin lawyer and a baroness who sits in the House of Lords, had previously worked as minister for faith and communities. She had overseen Britain’s relations with the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, among other duties at the Foreign Office.
“With deep regret I have this morning written to the Prime Minister (and) tendered my resignation. I can no longer support Govt policy on #Gaza,” Warsi, 43, said on her official Twitter feed.
In a resignation letter also published on Twitter, Ms Warsi said that the government’s approach to the conflict was not “consistent with our values, specifically our commitment to the rule of law and our long history of support for international justice”.
Ms Warsi warned that Britain’s “approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically”.
Whilst Prime Minister David Cameron has condemned the violence in Gaza – more than 1800 Palestinians, an overwhelming majority civilians, have now died in the conflict – he has attracted widespread criticism for his refusal to specifically condemn what many call the “disproportionate” use of force by Israel, in particular the continued targeting of United Nations facilities where civilians have sought shelter.
Mr Cameron said it was right to condemn the strikes but refused to take a tougher stance on attacks described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon as “moral outrages” and “criminal acts” and by the French foreign minister as simply, “massacres”.
Speaking to the Huffington Post soon after her resignation, Ms Warsi also said that it was wrong for the British government to refuse to support Palestinian efforts to bring war crime charges against Israel.
“As the minister for the International Criminal Court, I’ve spent the last two and a half years helping to promote, support and fund the International Criminal Court. I felt I could not reconcile this with our continued pressure on the Palestinian leadership not to turn to the ICC to seek justice”, she said.
Senior Palestinian figures have approached the ICC in the Netherlands to launch an investigation into alleged war crimes.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki asked the United Nations last month to end what he called Israel’s impunity and said it “must be held accountable for its crimes.”
Last week, the United Nations launched an inquiry into human rights violations and crimes alleged to have been committed by Israel during the offensive, amid a far higher civilian death toll on the Palestinian side.
The ICC, created more than a decade ago to prosecute individuals for war crimes, is a court of last resort, meaning that it will only intervene when a country is found to be unwilling or unable to carry out its own investigation.
Israel is not a member of the ICC and the court therefore has no jurisdiction to investigate. Jurisdiction could be granted in a UN Security Council resolution, but Israel’s ally the United States would have the power to block any such proposal.
Baroness Warsi has been vocal about atrocities in Gaza, telling her 35,000 Twitter followers last week: “Can people stop trying to justify the killing of children?”
Many politicians and members of the public applauded Baroness Warsi’s decision to resign with Labour’s Sadiq Khan, the shadow Justice Secretary, saying it was “very courageous of my brave friend Sayeeda Warsi to resign over this Government’s inexplicable silence and total weakness on the Gaza crisis”.