Jan. 21, 2004 – Britain is facing investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the use of cluster bombs by its troops in Iraq. Peacerights, a UK-based human rights group, yesterday issued an executive summary of a report on alleged war crimes committed by the British government and armed forces during the recent invasion of the Middle Eastern country. According to IPS, the findings of the report, which is not yet complete, will be presented to prosecutors at the ICC in The Hague next month. Should Britainâ€™s Attorney-General decline to prosecute, the ICC will then be asked to proceed with an investigation into the accusations.
The report is being prepared following a two-day inquiry in November by a group of lawyers and academics appointed by Peacerights. The inquiry was largely funded by the proceeds of White Ribbon, a campaign set up in February 2003 by British satirist and peace activist Mark Thomas and a coalition of groups opposed to the war in Iraq. Money came from sales of white ribbons representing peace and from shows put on by Thomas that highlighted opposition to the war.
The report alleges that the use of cluster bombs and bunker-buster missiles during the conflict was contrary to international law. At a press conference Tuesday one of the lawyers, Professor Bill Bowring of London Metropolitan University, said, "There is a considerable amount of evidence of disproportionate use of force causing civilian casualties." Reuters reports that a Ministry of Defence spokesman maintained that both cluster munitions themselves and their use in the Iraq conflict were lawful.
Cluster bombs, which can be dropped from aircraft or fired from rockets and artillery shells, are packages of small bomblets that are designed to scatter over a wide area and detonate on impact. The UK pressure group Landmine Action estimated in a recent report that between 9 and 30 percent of these bomblets do not detonate but remain live. Landmine Action says these unexploded devices pose a particular danger to civilians as they prevent people from using land or returning to their homes following military action. Also, being brightly colored, the devices are often picked up by children. In December, a report by US-based human rights monitoring group Human Rights Watch accused the UK and US governments of repeatedly using the munitions in populated areas, including residential areas. HRWâ€™s executive director, Kenneth Roth said in an interview with the Guardian that this has been the cause of "hundreds of civilian deaths."
The US, despite also using cluster bombs in Iraq, cannot face investigation by the ICC because it has not signed the treaty under which the court was set up.
Out of nearly 500 reports sent to the ICC since it was set up in 2002, only one has ever led to an investigation and no prosecutions have resulted. Lawyer Hugo Charlton told Reuters, "Instinctively, it seems probable that political pressure will be bought to bear to prevent this going to the ICC."
This is the latest in long line of attacks on British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his defense minister, Geoff Hoon, both of whom have faced repeated calls to resign over the conduct of the war in Iraq. Both are facing censure in a judicial report due next week into their roles in events leading up to the suicide of a government advisor, Dr. David Kelly. Kelly leaked details to the press suggesting that the government "sexed up" an intelligence service dossier used to make the case for going to war with Iraq before its release to the public.