2020 applicants
News

Report calls for investigation into alleged crimes by UK soldiers in Iraq

  • Date

    Fri 12 Oct 18

Soldier's boots in desert

The UK Government and Ministry of Defence (MoD) has failed British soldiers and victims of crimes alike while hampering truth and justice according to a new report.

The UK Government and Ministry of Defence (MoD) has failed British soldiers and victims of crimes alike while hampering truth and justice according to a new report.

The discussion paper, launched at The Hague is co-authored by Essex lawyer Dr Carla Ferstman. It shows that criminal investigations into claims of torture, unlawful death and other abuses allegedly perpetrated by UK soldiers in Iraq were “weak and ineffectual” and lacked “independence and transparency”.

Dr Ferstman and her co-authors Dr Thomas Obel Hansen and Dr Noora Arajärvi argue that delayed and ineffectual proceedings have denied victims justice and soldiers closure.

They are calling on the Government to prosecute those responsible and learn from the mistakes of previous investigations, and on the MoD to provide access to vital evidence which has previously been withheld.

Their findings coincide with a pending International Criminal Court preliminary examination of the crimes, launched after suggestions that the Government has been unwilling to pursue genuine investigations itself.

‘The UK Military in Iraq: Efforts and Prospect for Accountability for International Crimes Allegations?’ is co-authored by Dr Ferstman, of our School of Law, Dr Thomas Obel Hansen, from the Ulster Transitional Justice Institute, and researcher Dr Noora Arajärvi.

Dr Ferstman said: “We have traced and assessed the steps taken domestically in the UK to promote, or obstruct accountability for UK military abuses in Iraq and found that criminal investigations have been inadequate. They have been weak and ineffectual and lack independence and transparency.”


Dr Carla Ferstman
"It is a sad state of affairs that the UK, with one of the most revered justice systems in the world, cannot carry out effective investigations into abuses allegedly perpetrated by its own military."
Dr Carla Ferstman school of law

The research shows that:

  • Investigations were negatively impacted by the Government’s initial position that they did not need to comply with obligations under articles two (right to life) and three (prohibition of torture and ill-treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
  • The MoD’s chain of command failed to address a “more or less obvious closing of ranks” highlighted by Justice McKinnon during the court martial proceedings concerning the death of Iraqi hotel receptionist Baha Mousa.
  • The MoD failed to preserve important records which could have assisted investigations.
  • Investigations were hampered by the long passage of time since the initial allegations were made.
  • The perception that investigations were simply being kept open to appease the International Criminal Court negatively impacted those investigations.

Dr Ferstman said: “Our research clearly shows that the criminal investigations into alleged soldier abuses were inadequate. It raises concerns too that soldiers have suffered because of continuing uncertainty caused by the lack of finality of investigations, and in many respects a feeling that they were abandoned by the MoD.”

She added: “Looking forward to the pending examination before the International Criminal Court, it’s questionable whether UK authorities have the willingness to remedy the challenges needed for ensuring a genuine justice process.

“It is a sad state of affairs that the UK, with one of the most revered justice systems in the world, cannot carry out effective investigations into abuses allegedly perpetrated by its own military.”

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s Impact Acceleration Account and is part of a broader research initiative Dr Ferstman and Dr Hansen are leading to assess the accountability deficits associated with abuses perpetrated by major political powers.