Jurists urge probe into UK Iraq war crimes

A group of eight leading international lawyers has presented a report to the International Criminal Court at the Hague calling for a probe into whether London committed war crimes in its military campaign against Iraq.

Jurists want ICC to investigate role of UK military planning

The eight-member panel said in its executive summary that there is sufficient evidence for the ICC to investigate members of the British government for crimes against humanity.

Bill Bowring, a professor of human rights and international law at the London Metropolitan University, said the panel’s main concerns included the disproportionate use of weapons, the US attacks which left three journalists dead, and the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas.

The lawyers also urged the ICC to investigate whether London had a common purpose with Washington in committing alleged criminal activities.

UK-based non-governmental organisation Peacerights held a war crimes inquiry in November 2003 during which panellists heard expert witnesses and oral evidence of alleged crimes committed in Iraq.

The most important allegation being raised is London’s use of cluster bombs in civilian areas in Baghdad and the southern city of Basra, which violate the ICC’s Article 8 prohibiting the disproportionate loss of life, said Bowring.

Quoting statistics from the British Ministry of Defence, Bowring said London dropped 70 cluster bombs, each containing 140 smaller bombs, around Baghdad. In Basra more than 2000 cluster bombs, each containing 49 bombs, were fired.

Cluster bombs


William Schabas: Professor of Human Rights Law, National University of Ireland

Christine Chinkin: Professor of International Law, London School of Economics

Bill Bowring: Professor of Human Rights and International Law, London Metropolitan University

Reni Provost: Associate Professor Faculty of Law, McGill University

Paul Tavernier: Professor at the Faculti Jean Monnet and Universiti de Paris Sus

Nick Grief: Professor of Law and Head of School of Finance and Law, University of Bournemouth

Guy Goodwin-Gill: QC barrister and Senior Research Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford

Upendra Baxi: Professor of International Law, Warwick University

Cluster bombs “pepper an area the size of football pitches”, added Bowring. When used in civilian areas, they are deadly.

Bowring said the panel was not implicating that a massacre had occurred due to the cluster bombs “but a lot of civilians were killed”, which falls under Article 8’s jurisdiction.

Cluster bombs have a 20% failure rate so they are left lying around, which children often pick up, he added. These weapons are not banned although there are campaigns to make their use illegal.

The panel also heard a depleted uranium expert but there was not enough evidence to implicate a violation of Article 8, he added.

The panels members include British, Irish, Canadian and French nationals. The ICC is a permanent international criminal tribunal that tries individuals responsible for international crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Concern for journalists

International lawyers are also concerned with the killing of international journalists and the attack on Abu Dhabi television’s office, said Bowring.

In April 2003 Aljazeera’s Tariq Ayub was killed when a US missile slammed into the organisation’s bureau while Reuters’ cameraman Taras Protsyuk and Spanish television cameraman Jose Couso died when the Palestine Hotel was hit. The hotel is well-known for housing journalists. 

These attacks “look either deliberate or very reckless,” said Bowring.

All for one?

Washington and London launched an invasion of Iraq in March without United Nations approval and despite international outcries.

British PM Tony Blair (L) meetstroops in Iraq 
British PM Tony Blair (L) meetstroops in Iraq 

British PM Tony Blair (L) meets
troops in Iraq 

Under the general criminal law of joint enterprise, if a crime is committed by one party within a group, all are held responsible, explained Bowring. The jurists are calling on the ICC to examine the rules of engagement and what role Britain played in planning military operations, he said.

The jurists have not completed their report but submitted an executive summary. The report will be formally launched in the United States at the UN Headquarters on 26 January.

The ICC came into force in July 2002. In May 2003, 90 countries ratified the statute.

Washington is one of seven nations that has refused to sign the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The US claims that politically motivated cases will be brought against its military and political personnel.

Human rights organisations have slammed the Bush administration for launching what it says is an anti-ICC campaign.

Source: Al Jazeera