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ICC drops UK war crimes inquiry despite finding 'atrocities'

ICC abandons UK war crimes inquiry despite finding 'atrocities committed in Iraq'
3 min read
10 December, 2020
The ICC report comes as the UK inches towards passing legislation protecting soldiers from 'vexatious claims'.
Britain has slammed war crimes allegations as 'vexatious claims' [Getty]

The International Criminal Court (ICC) inquiry into alleged war crimes committed by British troops in Iraq has been dropped, despite suggesting that soldiers had committed rape, torture, and wilful killing.

A 184-page report produced by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's office announced the case would be closed and there would be no full-scale investigation into the matter.

Bensouda concluded that there was "reasonable basis to believe" that British troops committed wilful killing, torture, cruel treatment and sexual violence.

However he added that there was no proof that the UK had blocked investigations or was unwilling to pursue them.

At the same time, the report described investigations by the Royal Military Police as "inadequate" and "marred by a lack of independence and impartiality".

The inquiry was launched in the years after the 2003 invasion of Iraq and was reopened in 2014 after a short closure.

"Following a detailed inquiry, and despite the concerns expressed in its report, the office [of the prosecutor] could not substantiate allegations that the UK investigative and prosecutorial bodies had engaged in shielding [ie blocking inquiries], based on a careful scrutiny of the information before it," Bensouda said.

Bensouda also highlighted that there had had been a "confined number of incidents" that "appear to correspond to the most serious allegations of violence against persons in UK custody". 

The UK's Ministry of Defence said the ICC report "vindicates our efforts to pursue justice where allegations have been founded".

Bensouda, however, in her closing remarks slammed the UK's blunt dismissal of war crimes claims.

"The fact that the allegations investigated by the UK authorities did not result in prosecutions does not mean that these claims were vexatious," Bensouda said.

"At most it means that the domestic investigative bodies could not sustain sufficient evidence to refer the cases for prosecution, or on cases referred there was not a realistic prospect of conviction in a criminal trial."

The ICC report comes as the UK moves to protect soldiers from "vexatious claims" of abuse by lawyers, with new legislation that has already passed the first stages of becoming law through the UK's House of Commons.

The Overseas Operations Bill includes a presumption against prosecution five years after any alleged abuse, unless compelling new evidence is presented.

Rights groups have slammed the ICC's decision to drop its investigation as another blow for those seeking justice.

Tallha Abdulraqaz, a researcher at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute, says the move will further harm confidence in the ICC and other international tribals. 

"This sadly reinforces the quite accurate perception that international courts and tribunals favour the Great Powers," Abdulrazaq told The New Arab.

"In short, powerful countries can wage wars of aggression as in Iraq in 2003 and quite literally get away with the murder, pillage, and destruction of an entire nation based on false intelligence assessments and lies, and no Western politician will ever be held to account for this... This is unacceptable, immoral, and reinforces justifiable attitudes that 'justice" is only for the rich and powerful," he added.

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