UK should face court for crimes in Iraq, say jurists

Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor
Wednesday January 21, 2004
The Guardian

 A panel of international lawyers and academics called on the International Criminal Court yesterday to investigate Britain for alleged war crimes in Iraq.

The eight-member panel, mainly British but including representatives from France, Canada and Ireland, cited the use by the British military of cluster bombs in civilian areas.

It also said Britain was complicit in the actions of the US military, including the killing of international journalists.

A copy of the findings was sent to the ICC, which is based in the Hague, and to the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith.

The panel, which includes Bill Bowring, professor of human rights and international law at London Metropolitan University, took evidence in London in November.

Although its final report has not been completed, the panel yesterday issued an executive summary.

In it the panel said it answered yes to the question "Is there sufficient cause and evidence for the International Criminal Court prosecutor to investigate members of the UK government for breaches of the ICC statute in relation to crimes against humanity and/or war crimes committed during the Iraq conflict and occupation 2003?"

Professor Bowring said the RAF had dropped cluster bombs around Baghdad and the British army had fired artillery shells with cluster munitions around Basra.

He said these bombs were not accurate weapons capable of pinpoint accuracy and had exploded over large areas.

He noted the US attacks which resulted in the death of journalists: on the offices of the Arab satellite network, al-Jazeera, in Baghdad and on the Palestine hotel in Baghdad, where journalists were staying.

Prof Bowring said the panel had also investigated the use of depleted uranium, damage to the civilian infrastructure, including electricity supplies, the conduct of the US-British occupation and the preservation of the cultural heritage of Iraq, but the results had been inconclusive.

The ICC, which came into being in 2002, was set up as a permanent court to deal with crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC's chief prosecutor, was prominent in the trial of former members of the Argentinian junta.

Although, on balance, it seems unlikely that the ICC will investigate the allegations against the British government, an ICC spokeswoman yesterday refused to rule it in or out.

"We do not usually comment on issues that might fall under the jurisdiction of the court," she said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence defended the use of cluster bombs. "The thing about cluster munitions is they are not classified as unlawful and provide us with a legitimate capability," he said.

"We reserve the right to use them against military objectives and if we did not we might have to use alternative military equipment, such as an artillery barrage that might cause more [civilian] damage."

The international panel, in addition to Prof Bowring, is made up of: William Schabas, professor of human rights law at the National University of Ireland; Christine Chinkin, professor of international law at the London School of Economics; Reni Provost, associate professor at the faculty of law of McGill University in Canada; Paul Tavernier, professor, University of Paris Sud; Nick Grief, professor of law, University of Bournemouth; Guy Goodwin-Gill, QC, senior research fellow, All Souls College, Oxford; and Upendra Baxi, professor of international law, Warwick University.

The panel is supported by Peacerights, a relatively new human rights group.

Phil Shiner, its spokesman, said: "International law does not recognise victor's justice and both sides to the Iraq war must be fully accountable.

"Many respected groups and lawyers have expressed serious concerns about the apparently unnecessary and unjustified civilian casualties, particularly because of the use of cluster bombs in urban areas."

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