Campaigners ask ICC to investigate alleged UK war crimes in Iraq

LONDON Sun Jan 12, 2014 8:25am EST

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague talks during a news conference after his meeting with Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul November 20, 2013. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague talks during a news conference after his meeting with Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul November 20, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Osman Orsal

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LONDON (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 the UK government dismissed as unnecessary on Sunday.

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.

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.

"The British armed forces uphold high standards ... so we reject any allegations of systematic abuse. But where there are substantiated allegations of things going wrong these things have been or are being investigated," Hague told Sky News.

"That does not require references to the International Criminal Court ... This is being dealt with properly within the United Kingdom through a very detailed and exhaustive process."

PUBLIC INQUIRIES

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 organizations 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 Secretary Geoff 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.

"Should we be approached by the ICC, we will take the opportunity to explain the very extensive work underway to deal with historic allegations of abuse," the ministry said in a statement.

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

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.

(Additional reporting by Michelle Martin in Berlin, Sara Webb and Thomas Escritt in Amsterdam; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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