On May 13, 2014, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced she was re-opening a preliminary examination into the Iraq War – with a focus on alleged torture committed by British soldiers.  In 2006, the Prosecutor’s office had closed an examination of potential crimes committed during the war, citing lack of evidence.  The latest investigation was precipitated by a January 10, 2014, 250-page brief sent to the Prosecutor by two NGOs, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), on the subject of alleged “war crimes committed by the British armed forces against detainees in Iraq from 2003 to 2008.”

According to these NGOs, the purpose of this document is the initiation of “formal investigations by the prosecutor on the ICC” as the UK has “failed to reach the standards required to displace the ability of the ICC to act on these matters.” The NGOs claim that the many UK investigations have been lacking in “quality” and “independence,” and have “shielded those bearing the greatest responsibilities for the crimes” – meaning cabinet ministers and high ranking commanders.

Phil Shiner of PIL also claims the abuse of detainees was not a case of a “few bad apples”; instead, he accuses government ministers and high ranking military officials of being responsible for “perpetrating the awful deeds.” Shiner completely discounts the court martial of numerous soldiers for abuses in Iraq and the public inquiries into similar events.

Background on organizations Involved:

European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR)

  • ECCHR is a Berlin-based legal human rights NGO, which brings legal cases before courts in Europe and internationally, focusing on the situation in “Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Sudan, Syria and Bahrain.”
  • Funders include the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, Amnesty International Germany, Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World – German government funding), Cordaid (Dutch government funding), Misereor (German government funding), Open Society Institute (George Soros), Sigrid Rausing Trust, and others.
  • ECCHR has been active in the past in attempts to prosecute U.S. and UK officials in European courts. For instance, in February 2011, ECCHR, together with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR-New York), submitted an indictment to a court in Geneva Switzerland accusing former President George W. Bush of torture. Gavin Sullivan, a solicitor with the ECCHR, claimed that “Bush is a torturer and deserves to be remembered as such.”
  • In October 2007, ECCHR, CCR, FIDH (International Federation of Human Rights), and the French League for Human Rights filed a complaint in a Parisian court against Donald Rumsfeld, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, once again alleging torture. This case was dismissed out of hand by the French court.

Public Interest Lawyers (PIL)

  • Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) is a Birmingham-based solicitor’s company, founded in 1999 by Solicitor Phil Shiner.
  • Asserts that it aims “to help you fight for your rights against the unfettered power of the executive.”
  • PIL and Shiner have a long history of legal challenges against the UK armed forces, including applications to the European Court of Human Rights.
  • Shiner represented Al Haq in a 2009 lawsuit filed in the UK against Secretaries of State David Miliband, John Hutton, and Peter Mandelson for “the United Kingdom’s ongoing failure to meet its obligations under customary international law in respect of Israel’s actions since the launch of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza on 27 December 2008.” The purpose of the suit was to circumvent the British legislative process and UK foreign policy in order to secure a judicially imposed embargo of all British “aid or assistance (military or otherwise) to Israel.” The courts dismissed the claim remarking that “what the claimant ultimately wants is for the court to rule that Israel’s actions in Gaza are unlawful . . . or constitute war crimes.” Furthermore, the claim “would risk hindering the United Kingdom’s engagement with peace efforts in the Middle East.”
  • Shiner appeared as a “witness” for the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, a mock court putting Israel and its allies “on trial.”