THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Britain’s legal system is robust enough to avoid the risk of British soldiers being prosecuted by the International Criminal Court over alleged human rights abuses in Iraq, a senior British government official said.
The global war crimes court, of which Britain is a founding member, has for the past two years been investigating allegations that British soldiers maltreated prisoners in Iraq between 2003 and 2008.
The investigation has touched raw nerves in Britain, whose major role in the U.S.-led 2003 invasion of Iraq was enormously divisive at home, leading to a succession of contested and long-running public inquiries.
International charges against a British soldier would prompt an outcry in Britain, but Joyce Anelay, minister with responsibility for the ICC, said this would not weaken Britain’s commitment to the international court.
Any allegations against British soldiers or officials would likely have been subject to a domestic investigation that would be rigorous and independent enough to pre-empt ICC charges, she told Reuters in an interview in The Hague, seat of the court.
“British justice has perhaps the best and longest tradition in the world of being able to be robust and independent. If anybody thinks British justice can be swayed by national prejudice, they will be 100 percent wrong.”
The court, set up 13 years ago to prosecute the gravest international crimes, has struggled to bring charges against officials where the countries harboring them are reluctant to cooperate.
Post-election violence charges against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta were dropped last year after years of intense diplomatic lobbying by Kenya and its allies.
By contrast, the trial of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo began on Thursday, five years after he was handed over under the presidency of his successor and political rival.
The ICC is meant to be a court of last resort, meaning it only has jurisdiction over cases that national jurisdictions have proven themselves unwilling or unable to prosecute fairly. Credible charges in British courts could head off ICC charges.
Editing by Mark Heinrich