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Iraq Coalition War Crimes To Be Considered By Panel

by Marty Logan

Rights Groups Want U.S. Tried For Iraq War Crimes
(IPS) MONTREAL -- Five legal experts will hear submissions in November on whether Britain, Australia and other nations in the coalition that attacked Iraq should be tried for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The independent panel will meet Nov. 8-9 in London and focus on particular events and issues, said Felicity Williams of the U.K.-based group Public Interest Lawyers.

For example, the experts will determine whether the weapons systems the attackers used were legal under international humanitarian law, she told IPS.

"We'll be depending very much on the feedback of the five judges... if they say that these weapons couldn't discriminate between civilian and military targets, and that that was a breach of international law --and there's sufficient evidence to show that -- then there's no reason why we won't go ahead to present that evidence to the prosecution at the International Criminal Court," added Williams.

Coalition forces have been sharply criticized for using cluster bombs in their attack, which can spread over an area as large as several football fields.

While the conduct of the coalition leader, the United States, is likely to be discussed, it will not be the subject of any action, since Washington is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC in 1998. The court has a mandate to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in cases where countries with direct ties to the crimes are unable or unwilling to prosecute themselves.

"Obviously the panel will address the U.S. involvement, but their focus will be mainly on accountability of states that come under the jurisdiction of the ICC, mainly the U.K. and Australia," Steven Watt, a fellow at the U.S.-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, said Monday.

"They'll sit over the two days. Then they'll put together a report on their findings, which if they find commissions of war crimes or crimes against humanity, they'll report on that under the definition provided in the statute of law, (then) a formal submission will be made to the prosecutor of the ICC," he added.

A coalition of groups has discussed creating the tribunal since the U.S.-led attack in March on the country led by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who has not been accounted for since the bombing began.

The move was motivated partly by suggestions from Washington that it would set up a war crimes tribunal in Iraq to try alleged crimes under the Saddam regime. That has not happened.

"The main problem has been getting the calibre of judges we wanted all together at the same time," said Williams. "Also, in a way it was clearer to wait until the dust had settled a bit and some of the facts have actually come out a bit more since the war."

Other issues likely to be discussed include U.S. soldiers' killings of journalists. On Apr. 8 tank troops shelled the Palestine Hotel, known to house members of the media reporting on the war, killing two journalists.

The same day, a U.S. air strike on Al-Jazeera satellite channel's Baghdad bureau killed a reporter.

Last week, the Pentagon released a report that concluded the soldiers who attacked the hotel "properly fired upon a suspected enemy hunter-killer team in a proportionate and justifiably measured response. The action was fully in accordance with the rules of engagement."

The November panel hearing is "essential," said Rob Wheeler, UN representative for the Association of World Citizens and an organizer for the U.S.-based Uniting for Peace coalition, which groups about 150 peace and human rights groups.

"When you have this type of egregious violation of international law, it must be confronted. Whether it's confronted directly through the U.S. or one of the allies that was complicit, it needs to happen," he said in an interview.

Public Interest Lawyers has been active from prior to the invasion of Iraq, doing briefings in the U.K. House of Commons and, more recently, releasing an opinion on the legality of the occupation. Those activities got the government's attention, says Williams.

"I'm sure they're extremely aware of what we're doing ... I think (the panel) is something they'll be taking very seriously."

The primary funding support for the panel comes from Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace Rights, two U.K.-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs), she added.

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Albion Monitor August 20, 2003 (

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