After years of the UK failing to prosecute direct perpetrators among its troops in Iraq it’s time for international courts to step in, Andreas Schueller, legal adviser at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, told RT.
German-based European Centre for Constitutional Human Rights has recently submitted to the International Criminal Court a 250-page document entitled ‘The Responsibility of UK Officials for War Crimes Involving Systematic Detainee Abuse in Iraq from 2003-2008’. Among the abuses reported are beatings, electrocutions, various kinds of sexual humiliation, including outright rape. Family members of inmates were allegedly threatened by British troops and, in at least one case, actually harmed.
RT: Your organization helped compile the report. Just how damning is it?
Andreas Schueller: It’s very damning and the difference is that the evidence shows that it’s not only about individual and single cases and incidents, it’s really a systematic pattern of repetitive acts which occurred in that finding, in our report or communication to the ICC (International Criminal Court). It’s more than single isolated incidents.
RT: The UK says it is already investigating all accusations, and this submission to the ICC is needless. Why then did you file it?
AS: The UK is investigating some single incidents and has some public inquiries, but they all don’t look into the systematic pattern of abuses which also mounts to higher levels within the command chain. And that’s the difference which is not under investigation in the UK so far. After 10 years since the first incidents happened now it's time for the ICC to take these high-level cases up.
RT: The report alleges systematic abuse that top brass was aware of, or should have been aware of. How sure are you of this?
AS: Already in 2004 there were reports by the International Committee of the Red Cross, by Amnesty International about the abuses and mistreatment of the detainees in Iraq by British forces. Already in 2006 prosecutors of the International Criminal Court found that there are some incidents which amount to war crimes, and even after 2008 it continued. This shows that there were already quite early allegations which haven’t been followed up by the UK officials to prevent future torture between 2006 and 2008, for example. There was public knowledge since 2004-2006.
RT: There have been a number of attempts to bring the UK military to account for its actions in Iraq. None have worked. What makes you think this will fare any differently?
AS: We documented many more cases than were submitted before to the International Criminal Court or to other courts. It’s now the time because the UK had 10 years to investigate, to prosecute the direct perpetrators but also the higher ups in the UK. It’s been 10 years and there are still hardly any prosecutions in the country. So now it’s simply the time for international courts to step in.
RT: There are also political considerations here. Regardless of guilt, do you believe the UK would allow its top officials to be prosecuted?
AS: The UK ratified the Rome Statute and they are under the same obligations as other states, and it also includes to cooperate with the Court. They still have a chance to prosecute people themselves in their country but if they don’t do so, they have to cooperate with the ICC.
RT: The ICC has a reputation for only going after Africans. Would it dare go against a European power like Britain?
AS: It’s a time now also for the ICC, after almost 10 years of its existence, to broaden its focus not only on Africa, but also on the UK and states like Colombia, where crimes have been committed, where similar situations occurred like in the African states. ICC with a new prosecutor since last year is also now under obligation to look into the other regions of the world and conflicts where serious crimes have been committed.
RT: How much authority does the International Criminal Court actually have, without ratification from key powers, including the US, Russia and China?
AS: The Court has more than 120 member-states by now and that means already on the territory of the 120 states crimes can be investigated and prosecuted by the Court. Even if the big states you’ve just mentioned commit crimes in other states, which have ratified the Rome Statute, they would also come under investigations. That shows that if more and more states sign and ratify the Statute, more and more [countries], also the big powers, are under pressure to react to the jurisdictions the court might have if they commit crimes abroad in other countries. But we still hope that the statute will be also ratified by all UN member-states, including the US, Russia, India, Brazil and many more.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.