Preliminary investigations of the International Criminal Court regarding torture of Iraqi detainees by the British military

ECCHR welcomes the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague in May 2014 to reopen preliminary investigations into the liability of British military officials for the torture of detainees in Iraq. “The reopening of the investigation represents a milestone for Iraqi victims and for international criminal law”, said ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck. “The double standards must come to an end. Those who violate human rights must be brought to justice regardless of how powerful they may be”. ECCHR now hopes to see genuine investigations undertaken – whether by the prosecution at the ICC or by the British judiciary. Kaleck stressed that the investigations should not be directed solely against low-ranking suspects. “There must also be an examination of the role of senior military and political figures. They are the ones most liable for the systematic torture carried out. Ten years after the war it is time they were finally held accountable”.


Over 400 Iraqi former detainees have brought allegations to PIL of grave mistreatment committed during the five years which the UK and Multinational Forces operated in Iraq, from 2003 to 2008. Together, ECCHR and PIL have chosen 85 representative cases for analysis within their Communication to the ICC.


In 2006, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the ICC declined to open a formal investigation into UK military abuses in Iraq. After preliminary fact-finding the OTP concluded that there was a reasonable basis to believe that the war crimes of willful killing and inhuman treatment had been committed by UK forces in Iraq, but that those crimes were not of sufficient gravity to justify a formal investigation. At that time, the OTP found quantitative criteria to be the key consideration and assumed only 4 to 12 victims of willful killing and a limited number of victims of inhumane treatment, “totaling in all less than 20 persons”. However, the OTP explicitly stated that its decision not to investigate could be reconsidered in light of new information.


Eight years later, it is clear that an investigation by the OTP is not only proper, but compelling. Hundreds of abuse allegations, spanning across time, technique and location indicate that the UK military had a sustained policy of committing abuse against Iraqi detainees in order to prepare them for interrogation. This alone warrants the ICC to intervene. Furthermore, proceedings within the UK have been lacking in number, and in quality. UK officials have been all too reluctant to prosecute or investigate the high ranking officials for the systemic abuses committed in Iraq. As such, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC must now begin an investigation into war crimes committed against Iraqi detainees by the UK, in order to identify and hold accountable those most responsible for these crimes.

Anonymized copy of the communication

UKICC-Communication-2014-01-10_public.pdf (2.2 MiB)

Video on the ICC submission

ECCHR publications


  • accountability
  • ICC
  • Iraq
  • torture
  • UK