Failure to prosecute UK war crimes in Iraq exposes ICC’s own failings

Military Soldiersource: Middle East Eye
published: 17 December 2020

“Court finds UK war crimes but will not take action”. That was the extraordinary BBC News headline last week following the International Criminal Court’s publication of its detailed investigation into war crimes committed by British troops during the occupation of Iraq.

The ICC’s report is based on the findings of a preliminary inquiry to determine both whether there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes were committed and to assess whether the UK has itself investigated and sought to prosecute those accused of involvement.

The ICC concluded that because the UK was “not unwilling” to investigate and prosecute its soldiers for committing war crimes in Iraq, the investigation was being closed.

The truth, however, is that the British government has gone to exceptional lengths to ensure that troops accused of committing war crimes in Iraq are immune from prosecution. Out of the hundreds of cases pending against British soldiers, by June this year only one such case remained open.

In March, the government presented the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill. The law will place a five-year limit on criminal prosecutions against soldiers accused of war crimes and a six-year limit on civil actions.

Any cases outside of these periods will require the attorney general’s consent. There will also be a duty for the government to consider abandoning its commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) ahead of military expeditions overseas.

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