The International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, in a report has said that there is a “reasonable basis” to believe that British soldiers committed war crimes in Iraq. The alleged war crimes were committed against Iraqi detainees between 2004 and 2008, after the US-led Iraq invasion in 2003.
On Monday, at the annual assembly of states parties in New York, which participate in the jurisdiction of the court, Hague-based ICC presented a 74-page report on preliminary inquiries.
Speaking about the preliminary inquiries, Bensouda said that, “The [prosecutor’s] office has reached the conclusion that there is a reasonable basis to believe that members of the UK armed forces committed war crimes within the jurisdiction of the court against persons in their custody.”
Noting that the more recent allegations against British forces in Iraq were mostly by only one source, her office has “exercised an abundance of care” in the inquires.
However, the report says that there are no evidences available to show that British troops have been involved in war crimes on the battlefield:
“In the absence of information indicating intent to kill or target civilians or civilian objects, or cause clearly excessive civilian injuries, there is no reasonable basis to believe that war crimes within the jurisdiction of the court were committed by British armed forces in the course of their military operations not related to the context of arrests and detentions.”
Earlier, in 2016, a preliminary inquiry report by the ICC prosecutor’s office had noted that there was a “reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court had been committed, namely wilful killing and inhuman treatment” by the British troops against detainees. Due to the “limited number” of serious crimes allegations, the court decided to take no action.
The ICC Prosecutor’s office, in 2014, reopened an investigation into the alleged war crimes after Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) reported that the “UK personnel committed systematically and on a large scale war crimes of torture and related ill-treatment” against detainees in Iraq. The report alleged that the crimes were committed against at least 1,071 Iraqi detainees, pursuant to the UK government’s “deliberate policy of abuse” of Iraqi detainees.
The PIL and ECCHR also claimed that the British personnel committed at least 52 cases of unlawful killings against persons in their custody in Iraq during the same period.
The British government, which in 2010 had established Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) to investigate the allegations of war crimes against British soldiers, said that it has “a legal responsibility to investigate credible allegations of wrongdoing by UK forces” and that it is confident that its existing efforts to investigate allegations preclude the need for any investigation by the ICC. The IHAT was closed ahead of the originally scheduled time frame by June 30, 2017.
The war crimes allegations against the UK troops come amid widespread calls for former Prime Minister Tony Blair to face prosecution for his role in joining the US led Iraq invasion in 2003.