UK War Crimes ‘Cover-up’: What Do We Know So Far?

By Emily Kent, Volunteer Writer 21 Nov 2019

The British government has been accused of the attempting to cover-up war crimes committed by its troops, who are accused of the murder and torture of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. What do we know so far? Emily Kent examines. 

BBC Panorama and the Sunday Times this week published a joint investigation in which they spoke to 11 detectives who said they found credible evidence of war crimes.

Insiders have told the BBC that the solider should have been prosecuted. The scandal has prompted renewed calls for an independent judge-led inquiry to investigate allegation the abuse has been covered up.

The Ministry of Defence and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab have firmly denied the allegations. However, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has said it is seriously considering the evidence which has been presented to them. This would be a landmark prosecution due to the fact that the ICC has never taken action against any UK nationals for war crimes before.

What Is Alleged?

The new evidence has come from within two organisations – the Iraq Historic Allegation Team (IHAT) and Operation Northmoor – which were shut down by the government in 2017.

Both were set up by the government to investigate allegations of abuse and torture by British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively.

Northmoor, set up in 2014, was tasked with looking into 52 alleged unlawful killings but was closed before Royal Military Police detectives had a chance to interview the key Afghan witnesses.

Image Credit: Pixabay.

Among the cases examined by IHAT was the shooting of Iraqi policeman Raid Al-Mosawi by a British soldier in an alleyway in 2003. The British soldier’s commanding officer initially concluded with in 24 hours that shooting was a result of the solider acting in self-defence after the policeman fired at him.

But testimony from another solider later revealed the policeman had not fired at all, detectives concluding that the solider who shot Raid should be prosecuted. Military prosecutors have not taken anyone to court.

The detectives also allege that there is widespread evidence of abuse of detainees occurring at a base in Basra.

The evidence relates to the deaths of two civilians who were being detained at Camp Stephen, supervised by the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland. Statements given by army staff and soldiers allege they were tortured and found dead with bags over their heads.

The evidence was put to British Military Prosecutors who declined to launch a prosecution.

Why has the UK never been Prosecuted Before?

This is by no means the first time the UK has been confronted with allegations of war crimes, particularly those alleging mistreatment of detainees. Indeed, the International Criminal Court has previously asserted that there is valid evidence that British troops committed war crimes in Iraq.

The most notable of previous allegations would be the murder of Baha Mousa, a hotel worker in Basra, who was tortured and murdered in British custody. The resulting public inquiry saw the only conviction of a British soldier for war crimes in Iraq.

What Does The Government Say?

The Government has strongly denied the allegations. A statement from the Prime Minister’s spokesperson stated: “Our military served with great courage and professionalism in Iraq and Afghanistan and the idea that allegations that the MoD [Ministry of Defence] interfered with investigations or prosecution decisions into the conduct of UK forces are untrue.”

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Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC on Sunday that all allegations had been investigated. The Ministry of Defence has echoed his comments, stating allegations were subject to an extensive investigation.

Ultimately, the decision was made by the Independent Service Prosecuting Authority, who decided not to prosecute.

What Protection Does Human Rights Law Offer Against Torture?

Image Credit: Adrian Grycuk/Wikimedia

Article 3 of the Human Rights Convention prohibits torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment – this is one of our most fundamental rights.

The UN Convention Against Torture, to which the UK signed up in 1988, obliges parties to criminalise torture under their domestic law. It defines torture as an act by which severe pain and suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on someone for the purposes of obtaining information, for punishment, or intimidation.

The right to be free from torture is absolute, meaning that it is never justifiable to torture someone – whatever the circumstances.

Inhuman or degrading treatment is also prohibited:

Article 3 of the Human Rights Convention requires governments to conduct official, effective investigations into credible allegations of serious ill-treatment by public officials and to take positive steps to prevent it.

UK courts and tribunals cannot rely on evidence obtained through torture, no matter which country it took place.

The Human Rights Convention and the Convention Against Torture also prevent the government from deporting or extraditing people to another country where they would likely face torture.

Featured Image Credit: Pexels.