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Campaigners Ask ICC To Investigate Alleged UK War Crimes In Iraq

posted 12 Jan 2014, 12:59 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 12 Jan 2014, 13:00 ]

A human rights lawyer says that evidence demonstrating widespread torture of Iraqis by British forces, submitted to the International Criminal Court, proves knowledge of the practices goes to the top of the chain of command, including then ministers.

BASRA, IRAQ (REUTERS) -  Human rights lawyers and campaigners have asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate allegations of torture by British troops in Iraq, a move which theUK government dismissed as unnecessary.

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A Berlin-based human rights group and a British law firm have submitted what they describe as 250 pages of analysis to the ICC's Office of the Prosecutor requesting action on alleged abuses between 2003 and 2008.

The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) said in a press release posted on the ECCHR website that there had been "systemic abuse" of Iraqi detainees during the British presence in Iraq which met the threshold of war crimes.

An ICC spokeswoman declined immediate comment on the submission.

Speaking in an interview, the founder and spokesman for PIL, Phil Shiner, said

"The claims are that based on hundreds of thousands of documents, policy documents, training materials, the testimonies of over 400 Iraqis, that UK officials are responsible for the war crimes of torture, willful killing, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, gross humiliation etc," he said.

"The material, the evidence, goes right to the top. It points at the Secretaries of State for Defence, and the Minister for Armed Forces whilst we were in Iraq, and further, the senior Minister of Defence, civil servants and lawyers and the Chief of Defence Staff," he added.

"So it's not about a few bad apples, and a few rogue soldiers, it's a systematic problem, it was trained, it's in policy documents, it's in training materials and it goes to the top," Shiner said.

The ICC, which receives dozens of submissions every year and takes very few of them further, can only act where national jurisdictions are unable or unwilling to investigate alleged crimes.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain's willingness to investigate the allegations meant action by the ICC was unnecessary.

Referring to a British army intelligence base 50 miles north of London in Bedfordshire, Shiner said PIL's submission was took place in Iraq were systemic abuses.

"I believe that every Iraqi who was detained and then questioned and then later interrogated was subjected to exactly the same practices and techniques, which were unlawful and amount to torture, because that was the policy that was trained at Chicksands," he said.

"If anyone had looked, they'd have found people in solitary confinement, on suicide watch, being disorientated, being run around in zig-zags, being deprived of sleep, etc, etc, etc," he added.

"But nobody looked because no one wanted to know what was going on. They wanted to turn a blind eye to it," Shiner said.

The ECCHR and PIL said more than 400 Iraqi former detainees had made allegations of grave mistreatment, of which 85 had been chosen as "representative cases" in the submission to the ICC.

The two organisations said they wanted the ICC to open formal investigations into senior figures at the Ministry of Defence who "knew or should have known of the widespread patterns of abuse, and turned a blind eye to them", and named former Defence SecretaryGeoff Hoon.

Hoon could not be immediately reached for comment.

The ministry said alleged abuses had been or were being investigated through the British and European law courts, through public inquiries, in parliament and through a dedicated publicly funded body called the Iraq Historic Allegations Team.

Shiner said that he expected the issue to become significantly bigger now PIL and the ECCHR had made the submission.

"I think the ICC are bound to investigate; they don't have any choice. Thereafter that decision as to whether to prosecute individuals is up to them," he said.

"Personally I think the evidence is compelling, and those responsible, including the relevant Secretaries of State should today be very worried about what might now happen. They're certainly going to be investigated," he added.

PIL has played a key role in a number of court cases involving alleged British abuses inIraq.

It has also been instrumental in bringing about several major public inquiries, including the ongoing Al-Sweady inquiry into allegations that British troops executed and tortured Iraqis in the aftermath of a battle in May 2004.

That inquiry is due to present its findings at the end of this year.