Recent Push for ICC to Prosecute UK officials for crimes in Iraq
January 19, 2014
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This past week, the Germany-based European Centre for Constitutional Human Rights and the England-based Public Interest Lawyers firm submitted a 250-page document to the ICC, entitled “The Responsibility of UK Officials for War Crimes Involving Systematic Detainee Abuse in Iraq from 2003-2008”. The document contains testimonies from over 400 Iraqis and accuses British soldiers of war crimes ranging from torture such as electric shocks and burning, to cultural humiliation and simulated executions. The Centre for Constitutional Human Rights places the blame on the highest officials of both the UK Military and Civil Government, claiming that they were aware of the abuses committed by the soldiers but failed to act. In particular, the complaint mentions the former minister of defense Geoff Hoon and Secretary of State Adam Ingram.
The UK government’s response was that a small number of cases had indeed taken place, but they were addressed on an individual basis. It rejected claims of “systematic torture”.
A similar complaint was filed with the ICC in 2006, but failed in part because the ICC believed that the number of cases at the time was too small to warrant a charge of “war crimes”.
This complaint is rekindling debate over whether or not the ICC prosecutes selectively. In 2013, the ICC was accused by the African Union of “race-hunting” after it indicted the Kenyan president and Vice President for orchestrating violence during the 2007 elections. The African Union highlighted the fact that the vast majority of ICC indictments have been for African leaders. While the focus of the accusation was race, it also brought up issues regarding the size and power of the countries indicted by the ICC. All ICC indictments and cases have been leveled against either those no longer in power, or heads of states that are not considered particularly powerful. There have been no successful indictments against any states that sit on the Security Council.
It will be interesting to see how this complaint plays out and whether or not it will gain any interational traction, but my guess is that it will generate a bit of buzz and then quickly fade out. While there has been continual public outcry against things like US treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, the abuses of powerful countries is unlikely to face any international legal retribution. This is not limited only to Western Countries—countries like China or Russia are also unlikely to face international prosecution for any potential crimes against humanity.