It is common knowledge that the British armed forces have been heavily involved in the conflicts of the last decades incited by the United States as they used their troops on a large scale in Iraq and Afghanistan, to name a few. Due to the US and UK military actions in those countries a lot of civilians died and their families and representatives vehemently demand justice for those guilty of war crimes.
Through Resolution 2391 (XXIII) dated November 26, 1968, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity. The rules aimed at protecting the victims of armed conflict, and placing restrictions on the methods and means of warfare, are spelled out in detail in international humanitarian law, which also defines the mechanisms for ensuring compliance with these rules.
However, the US and the UK have recently, and inexcusably, started to think of themselves as outside the scope of these international legal documents that they adopted themselves, and allow them to be ostensibly violated. Moreover, as evidenced by numerous testimony, including those published in Western media outlets, there is the increasing desire to cover up the war crimes that have been committed in recent decades in the Middle East and Afghanistan by US military service personnel, and some of its allies. Besides the efforts to shirk responsibility for the crimes committed through the use of such tactics, it has become increasingly evident that the US and UK military agencies have not properly monitored operations conducted by their combat units.
Thus, not only Arab, but also British media outlets have on multiple occasions reported the evidence that high-ranking British officials with the Ministry of Defense had been covering up the war crimes committed by UK military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan for years. These outlets have reported on multiple occasions, in particular, about the war crimes involving personnel from elite British special forces, such as the SAS and Black Watch. On top of that, journalistic investigations found hard evidence of the falsification of documents; in these, premeditated killings and torture in Afghanistan and Iraq were dressed up as “Special Ops against terrorists” while inquiry into the committed crimes was stonewalled due to explicit political pressure. In this vein, on instructions of then UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon all proceeding regarding these matters were dismissed even before they got to court. The investigation by the BBC and the Times reporters has clearly shown that evidence collection and production was prevented due to political reasons.
For example, The Sunday Times has provided evidence regarding the involvement of one British Special Air Service soldier in the killings, as well as the evidence of crimes committed by members of the Black Watch battalion, which is part of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, including beatings, torture, and sexual abuse. These actions alone are enough to be scrutinized in the International Criminal Court.
It is worth pointing out that in order to investigate the complaints lodged by Iraqis about the British military’s actions, an IHAT (Iraq Historic Allegations Team) investigative group was specifically established to examine hundreds of claims made by victims’ relatives. However, in January 2016, swayed by then British Prime Minister David Cameron, the UK Ministry of Defense announced that investigation into 57 criminal cases filed against the British military had been discontinued. Moreover, intentionally trying to downplay criminal acts the UK authorities suspended from legal practice solicitor Phil Shiner that had handed over to IHAT data about more than 1,000 instances of violence by the military. In an all-out attempt to obstruct the investigations concerning offenses committed by the British military, Boris Johnson, the incumbent head of the UK Cabinet, authored the corresponding bill on Overseas Operations allowing for the suspension of investigation.
In 2017, Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled that during their presence in Iraq British troops had breached the Geneva Conventions by committing pre-meditated murder, intentionally inflicting severe sufferings or grievous bodily harm, engaging in meaningless and large-scale destruction and appropriation of property (not warranted by military necessity), deliberate attacks on the civilian population as such or on individual civilians not directly involved in hostilities and offending human dignity including engagement in humiliating and degrading treatment.
Nonetheless, the Service Police Legacy Investigations (SPLI) dropped all cases related to UK service members alleged crimes committed between 2003 and 2009 in Iraq. None of 1,291 charges resulted in prosecutions or prison time. Iraqi civilians claims regarding the criminal behavior of British soldiers were considered by the police officers of the Royal Navy and the police of the Royal Air Force who were part of SPLI. As the UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace stated on October 20 in the House of Commons, the SPLI “officially closed its doors”, and noted that the main problem in the activities of this structure was the “lack of evidence base”, while acknowledging that “some shocking and shameful incidents did happen in Iraq.” “We recognize that there were four convictions of UK military personnel for offences in Iraq including offences of assault and inhuman treatment.”
There is no doubt that such a decision by the SPLI was again clearly driven by the political interests of the current Johnson’s government, which is wary of an uptick in anti-government protests in the country amid growing public discontent with the performance and policies of the British authorities.
It is worth noting that the UK government has a lengthy track record of harboring war criminals for decades. Since 1948, the Malaysians have been unable to seek justice in a case of the Scots guards massacring residents in a village near the town of Batang Kali, where 24 people were killed for no reason. Moreover, these murderers even took memento photo by the victims bodies. However, the British authorities have not brought anyone to justice and have not even bothered to pay compensation to the relatives of those murdered more than 70 years ago…
Such British policies, and, especially efforts of the UK Ministry of Defense regarding the war crimes cover-up raises a lot questions for the UK authorities. As for the UN, International Committee of the Red Cross, International Criminal Court and many other human rights institutions, they have a duty to respond to such crimes despite the attempts by certain British political circles to hush up such criminal activities and shirk responsibility.
Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.