International Court to Review ‘Illegality’ of Iraq War

January 23rd, 2004 - by admin

by Sanjay Suri / Inter Press Service –

LONDON (january 20, 2004) — A strong case arguing the illegality of the invasion of Iraq will be handed soon to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

The report prepared by eight leading international lawyers and professors of law drawn from four countries makes a strong case against the illegality of the way British and US troops fought the war.

The professors came together for the study within an independent group Peacerights. The study was funded largely by shows done last year by British comedian Mark Thomas in a campaign he called White Ribbon.

“We will be presenting the report first to the Attorney-General in Britain,” solicitor Phil Shiner from Peacerights said at a meeting called by the group Tuesday.

The Attorney-General is not expected to respond, given his official advice to the government last year that it would be legal for Britain to join an invasion of Iraq. The ICC will be given a copy of the report but asked formally to proceed only after the Attorney-General in Britain turns down the request to prosecute British leaders.

The dossier prepared by the experts is expected to be handed to prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) Luis Moreno Ocampo next month in The Hague, capital of the Netherlands.

Since his appointment as prosecutor in April last year Ocampo has received around 500 requests from 66 countries, but has asked for a full inquiry in only one case relating to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Prosecutor’s Responsibility
But there are indications that the prosecutor will study the law professors’ report seriously. “The prosecutor knows what we are doing, and his office is waiting for the information we are sending,” Bill Bowring who headed the panel of law experts told IPS. “We know there is interest in the prosecutor’s office.”

The prosecutor will have to study the professors’ report and can take it to the ICC to demand a full inquiry if he finds merit in it. A full inquiry could mean that British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his senior ministers could be called to face charges.

If the prosecutor orders a formal investigation, then the ICC would have wide-ranging powers to interview people. “As a strong supporter of the ICC, Britain would be under enormous obligation to cooperate,” Bowring said. And given the precedent from Serbia that has brought former president Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague to face trial, British leadership would not be exempt, Bowring said.

US Could Ignore the ICC
The United States has stayed away from the ICC and can therefore claim immunity from any ICC procedures. “But there remains the question of complicity in a joint enterprise,” Bowring told media representatives Tuesday. “If Britain and the United States acted together, and if war crimes were committed, then there is a real question of war crimes committed by the United States that would be before the ICC.”

The legal team plans to make the United States liable by association by focusing its inquiries on the role of Britain, which played a strong role in supporting creation of the ICC.

The eight law experts gathered evidence from a wide range of sources, and also spoke directly to witnesses over two days in London in November. Evidence was gathered from witnesses on the ground such as Spanish medical teams, and from weapons experts.

The experts’ report focused particularly on cluster bombs used by the British. The Ministry of Defence in London has admitted to dropping 70 cluster bombs from the air, each of them containing 147 ‘bomblets’. In addition, British artillery fired more than 2,000 shells, each containing about 40 smaller bombs.

The report, a full version of which is due to be released about two weeks from now, also takes a close look at the targeting of media by way of attacks on the offices of Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi TV, and on Palestine Hotel in Baghdad.

“We want to make it clear that we are not levelling accusations,” Shiner said. “We are pointing to questions that need answers, and we are demanding an investigation into these.”

The Peacerights group did not have access to all the information that would be needed in order to make a charge against the government, Shiner said. “We would need to know what the military objectives were, who took the decision to risk civilian casualties, what the targeting data was before those who took the decisions and other such information. We do not have that information but the prosecutor could ask for it.”

The lawyers who carried out the study include William Schabas, professor of human rights law at the national University of Ireland, Christine Chinkin, professor of international law at the London School of Economics, Bill Bowring, professor of human rights and international law at London Metropolitan University and Reni Provost, associate professor at the faculty of law at the McGill University in Canada.

Other lawyers are Paul Tavernier, professor at the Faculti Nean Monnet in Paris, Nick Grief, professor of law at the University of Bournemouth in Britain, Guy Goodwin-Gill, senior research fellow at All Souls College in Oxford and Upendra Baxi, professor of international law at Warwick University in Britain.

Copyright 2004 IPS – Inter Press Service
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)