International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced Wednesday that she had decided to close a preliminary examination into alleged war crimes committed by members of the British Armed Forces in Iraq, despite confirming a “reasonable basis” to find that the crimes did occur. The prosecutor further announced she would not open an investigation.
In January 2014 the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, together with Public Interest Lawyers, urged the ICC to investigate alleged war crimes committed “with respect to the abuse and mistreatment of Iraqi detainees by UK military forces.” The organizations also called for a formal examination as to why the UK “has failed to sufficiently investigate and persecute its high ranking civilians and military officials … [who] knew or should have known of the widespread patterns of abuse, and turned a blind eye to them.” They argued that the abuse lasted from 2003 until 2008.
The situation has been under preliminary examination within the ICC since May 2014 on the basis of new information received. Bensouda’s office previously concluded, “that there is a reasonable basis to believe that members of the UK armed forces committed war crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court against at least 54 persons in their custody.” Such crimes include “wilful killing, torture, inhumane/cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, and rape and/or other forms of sexual violence.”
Over the years, the UK has taken action to investigate the allegations. While Bensouda acknowledged efforts made by UK authorities, she noted that nothing has resulted from the over 10 year-long process: UK officials have yet to prosecute a single case. This result, wrote Bensouda, continues to deprive victims of justice.
Despite their validity, these concerns did not “trigger a decision by the prosecutor to seek authorization to open an investigation” due to the ICC’s admissibility regime. According to the final report of the Office of the Prosecutor, the “ICC is not a human rights body called upon to decide whether in domestic proceedings the requirements of human rights law or domestic law have been violated.” The ICC is rather “tasked with determining whether it should exercise its own competence in a criminal case, in place of the primary duty which belongs to a state.”
The office ultimately determined that UK authorities “were not ‘unable’ to proceed” with a domestic investigation and that they have not “engaged in shielding perpetrators from criminal justice.”