LEICESTER, United Kingdom – England’s leading Catholic international develop agency has condemned UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statement opposing an investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel and Palestinian actors in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it was investigating the situation in Palestine, and crimes which may have been committed since June 13, 2014.

Israel says it rejects the authority of the ICC to investigate its actions, since it is not a party of the treaty that established the court and therefore not under its jurisdiction.

However, the country said it will send a response to the court making “clear that Israel is a country with rule of law that knows how to investigate itself.”

In an April 9 letter to the Conservative Friends of Israel, Johnson said the investigation into possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories “gives the impression of being a partial and prejudicial attack on a friend and ally of the UK’s.”

“We do not accept that the ICC has jurisdiction in this instance, given that Israel is not a party to the Statute of Rome and Palestine is not a sovereign state,” the prime minister has written.

CAFOD, the international development agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, signed a joint letter condemning Johnson’s words, and saying the ICC investigation “is bringing victims, survivors and their families one step closer to justice – but political interference by states, such as the UK, risks pushing that out of reach.”

(Credit: Conservative Friends of Israel.)

“The investigation is the first genuine hope that alleged perpetrators of the most serious crimes will be held to account for their actions. The ICC is committed to undertaking an investigation that is ‘conducted independently, impartially and objectively, without fear or favor.’ Providing impartial justice and ending decades of impunity would bring the prospect of lasting peace closer and would signal an end to the suffering endured by generations across the region,” the letter continues.

Also signing the April 15 letter were Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, Medical Aid for Palestinians, Christian Aid, Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), Action around Bethlehem Children with Disability (ABCD Bethlehem), Amos Trust, Friends of Birzeit University, War on Want, Welfare Association, Interpal, and Embrace the Middle East.

The signatories said the UK government could be a “bastion of international law and human rights – but instead it is undermining international criminal proceedings and standing in the way of justice.”

The letter said Johnson’s statement sets a “wholly dangerous precedent by the UK,” that threatens the viability, objectives, and the future of the ICC.

“The international community must be consistent in its support for accountability and the rule of law, regardless of the context. The UK Government should respect the impartiality and independence of the court, and should support – rather than substantially undermine – international legal frameworks and judicial mechanisms,” the letter concludes.

The Palestine Mission to Britain issued a statement saying Johnson’s words are “a low point in UK-Palestine relations and undermines the UK’s credibility on the international stage.”

“It is clear that the UK now believes Israel is above the law. There is no other interpretation of a statement that gives carte blanche to Israel,” the mission said. “On the one hand, Prime Minister Johnson claims to support the mission of the ICC. On the other, he seems to argue that its mission cannot extend to Israel because it is a ‘friend and an ally’ of the UK.”

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome