- The Washington Times - Friday, January 23, 2004

Britain’s use of cluster bombs in Iraq, similar to the ones used by the United States military, is a “war crime” and should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for prosecution, academics, lawyers and human rights activists in London said earlier this week.

A report by the advocacy group Peacerights said the British military’s use of cluster munitions during combat with Iraqi forces had killed civilians and therefore constituted a war crime.

Bill Bowring, an international law professor at London Metropolitan University, said Prime Minister Tony Blair should be held accountable.

“Heads of state are not immune in principle,” he told reporters Tuesday. “This one goes right to the top.”

But other international law experts said the charge is “highly unlikely” to go anywhere.

“People can make accusations. I can accuse my neighbor of dealing drugs, but that doesn’t mean the prosecutor will take the case. Saying something does not make it a legal case,” said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s international justice program.

For a war crime to reach the level of the ICC’s jurisdiction, it would have to be “willful killing, deliberate, intentional and part of the plan of the British government,” he said.

Cluster bombs work by scattering small bomblets over a wide area, killing or wounding anyone — civilian or military — in range.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has expressed “concerns” about cluster bomb use, in part because the unexploded bomblets can maim or kill civilians long after combat is over.

In December, Human Rights Watch published a report concluding that U.S. use of cluster bombs in Iraq had killed as many as 1,000 Iraqi citizens.

However, the advocacy group did not characterize the U.S. use of cluster bombs as a war crime and never suggested that anyone be prosecuted for their use.

The United Kingdom is a member of the International Criminal Court, but the United States has refused to participate, fearing U.S. citizens and soldiers could face charges politically motivated by opponents of American foreign policy.

But human rights activists said the fact that the ICC is unlikely to take up the British case argues against American fears of the court.

“You don’t judge the court by the claims people bring, but by its actions, the quality of the personnel and the integrity of the statute,” said Elisa Massimino, D.C. director of the Lawyers Committee on Human Rights.


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