If, as appears likely, the UK is involved in the use of force against Iraq the leaders of the UK Government will be investigated by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) if it breaches international humanitarian law (IHL). So promises a coalition of professors of law and leading NGOs from around the world.[1] The UK, US and Canadian Governments have today been served with letters before action warning them of the consequences of an illegal use of force against Iraq. In the UK , Tony Blair was served at 10 Downing Street during filming for a Channel 4 TV programme on January 31.[2]

The ICC came into being in July 2002 and is shortly to commence work. It will investigate and prosecute those guilty of ‘genocide,’ ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘war crimes’. The definition of ‘war crimes’ is wide and would catch indiscriminate methods of attack or weapon systems used by the UK and US in the 1991 Gulf War, and in Kosovo and Afghanistan.[3] Whereas those wars took place before July 2002 any war in Iraq could be subject to the ICC’s jurisdiction. Thus the following which have been used in the past and are in breach of IHL are now prohibited:

  • Indiscriminate methods of attack against civilian centres such as high level airs strikes and attacks on cities such as Baghdad and Basra.
  • Indiscriminate weapons systems such as cluster bombs, fuel-air explosives, multiple rocket launcher systems or weapons using depleted uranium.
  • Attacks on Iraqi infrastructure
  • Attacks on electricity supplies (so as to cause the death of thousands of innocent civilians because of failed water sanitation plants).
  • Attacks on projects likely to release dangerous forces such as civil nuclear energy plants or dams.

The coalition of lawyers and NGOs plan unprecedented action using the ICC legislation as a threat to force the UK to target its use of force and to avoid indiscriminate attacks. If there are violations of IHL (which prohibits indiscriminate attacks) these and other NGOs who will be in Iraq or otherwise in a position to monitor the war will report to a Tribunal of eminent international jurists and others. If the tribunal finds there have been violations it will report to the prosecutor of the ICC and he will be urged to start an investigation of his own initiative as he is empowered to do.[4] Thereafter the coalition will work with the Prosecutor to ensure that the evidence of violations is credible the leaders of the UK Government who, under the principle of Command Responsibility, are liable for violations are prosecuted in the Hague .

Carol Naughton, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament said today: “The world has changed for the better since the 1991 Gulf War and we now have the International Criminal Court. We can guarantee Messrs. Blair, Hoon and Straw that they will be investigated and prosecuted if they repeat the attacks of that war, or in Kosovo and Afghanistan.”

Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, the coalition’s UK lawyer said today:

“The definition of war crimes is very broad and will catch indiscriminate methods of attack or weapon systems. The UK Government must ensure that all force used is targeted, discriminate, proportionate and necessary, otherwise its leaders face a similar fate to that of Milosovic.”

Michael Mandel of Lawyers Against the War (Canada) and Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, Toronto said today:

“Our governments are planning to commit nothing short of mass murder. They are planning to kill Iraqi civilians without any lawful justification or excuse. That’s a crime in England and in Canada and under international law. No one is above the law, not even Prime Ministers. If they do this terrible thing, we are going to see to it they are personally brought to justice. We are going to prosecute each and every one of them for each and every crime they commit.”


For more information contact Phil Shiner on 0121 212 1868 (work) or 07715 485248 (mobile) ; Carol Naughton on: 07736 698702 (mobile)


[1] The coalition includes the following NGOs: CND, Campaign Against the Arms Trade, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Campaign Against Depleted Uranium, Centre for Economic and Global Rights and Centre for Constitutional Rights.

[2] “Mark Thomas……Weapons Inspector,” Channel 4, 31 January, 7.30pm. In this programme Mark assumes the role of weapons inspector in Britain and the US , looking for violations of international treaties and checking if either country is in breach of its international law obligations.

[3] The UK Government will be liable under the principle of complicity for the actions of the US

[4] By Article 15 of the ICC Statute, now transposed into UK law as the International Criminal Court Act 2001.