War crimes by UK forces in Iraq: ICC prosecutors move to next stage in assessment

The opening of a formal investigation into UK forces is now one step closer as prosecutors at the International Criminal Court in The Hague progress to the next phase of their preliminary examination into war crimes committed by UK forces in Iraq.
On 4 December 2017, the Court’s Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) announced that it sees a reasonable basis to believe that members of the UK armed forces committed war crimes against detainees in Iraq. Prosecutors in The Hague will now move to what it refers to as Phase 3 of the proceedings, examining issues of gravity and complementarity. The complementarity assessment will consider whether genuine investigations and prosecutions are being conducted in the UK.

PRESS RELEASE: War crimes in Iraq probe - ICC prosecutors move to next stage in assessment of UK forces

PR_ICC_UK_Irag_torture_ECCHR_20171205.pdf (327.5 KiB)

In its latest communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in September 2017, ECCHR reaffirmed the need for the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to move beyond a preliminary examination and seek the opening of an investigation into war crimes related to the abuse of detainees in Iraq by UK forces from 2003 to 2008. ECCHR is particularly calling on the ICC to examine the responsibility of senior military and political leaders for the abuse.
“The UK has done all it can to bury and undermine the serious allegations, ignoring evidence uncovered by its own domestic inquiries,” said ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck. “It falls now to the ICC to show that war crimes will be investigated, including when committed by powerful states”.

PRESS RELEASE: As the UK shuts down domestic investigations into abuse, it’s time for an investigation in The Hague

PR_UK_Iraq_Abuse_ICC_20170905.pdf (413.8 KiB)

Reasonable basis for the opening of an ICC investigation regarding torture of Iraqi detainees by the British military

ECCHR's submission sets out the legal standard under the Rome Statute for the opening of an investigation, concluding that the available evidence more than establishes the “reasonable basis to believe” required for the opening of an investigation.

ICC preliminary examinations on UK since May 2014

The ICC Prosecutor opened a preliminary examination of the situation in May 2014 following a communication from ECCHR and Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) in January 2014.
“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”. 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”.

85 representative cases: ECCHR communication on torture by British military

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 chose 85 representative cases for analysis within their Communication to the ICC. That submission details how techniques including physical assault, hooding, electric shocks, stress positions, deprivation of food, water and sleep, and sexual humiliation were used against detainees. The submission presents the 85 sample cases along with extensive corroborative evidence including from independent inquiries in the UK and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Anonymized copy of the communication

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

Torture in Iraq: The long road to justice

In 2006 the OTP of the ICC declined to open a formal investigation into UK military abuses in Iraq. After preliminary fact-finding it 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 the cases at hand 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.
Eleven years later, it is clear that an investigation by the OTP is not only proper, but compelling. Hundreds of abuse allegations, in several locations over several years, 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 inadequate. 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.

Video on the ICC submission

ECCHR publications


  • accountability
  • ICC
  • Iraq
  • torture
  • UK

Go back