Global Policy Forum

War Crimes Complaint Filed by a Lawyer against Britain


By Marlise Simons

New York Times
May 14, 2004

A French lawyer said Thursday that he had filed a war crimes complaint against Britain at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for abuse of prisoners in Iraq. But there were immediate questions about whether the court would ever have jurisdiction in the case.

Jacques Verges, a Paris-based lawyer who also says he is representing Saddam Hussein, said he was unable to file a complaint against the United States because it does not recognize the court and "has put itself above international law." But he said he filed the suit against the British government, which does recognize the court's jurisdiction, because there was ample evidence that British nationals had committed war crimes and had abetted crimes committed by American troops. Mr. Verges, who is often accused of being a publicity seeker, has made a specialty of taking up shocking or sensational cases. He said he was acting on behalf of relatives of his imprisoned clients, Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz, Iraq's former foreign minister.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague declined to comment. "As a matter of policy, the office of the prosecutor does not comment on communications, not even if they arrive or not," a court spokesman said by telephone.

Mr. Verges made available a copy of the complaint, a 16-page document that accuses Britain of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and of the laws and customs of war. It quotes extensively from press reports and from reports by Amnesty International and the International Red Cross. "I just faxed it this afternoon," Mr. Verges said by telephone.

Mr. Verges said that he had filed the suit at the request of relatives of his two clients, Mr. Hussein and Mr. Aziz, because they may also be victims of abuse. "We don't know, because they are kept in a secret place," he said, adding that Mr. Hussein's rights as a prisoner of war had already been violated by the release of degrading pictures of him, in contravention of a stricture of the Geneva Conventions.

It is not clear whether the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction in the case against Britain. The court, created by the Rome Treaty in 1998, became effective July 2002 with the mandate to try "the most serious crimes of concern to the international community." But in essence it is a court of last resort and has jurisdiction over grave crimes only if a nation's own courts are unwilling or unable to act.

Britain's own announced investigations into charges of abuse and killing of Iraqi prisoners therefore will take precedence over any possible inquiry by the court.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the International Criminal Court


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.