Author: Chantal Meloni

[Chantal Meloni is Associate Professor of International Criminal Law and Criminology at the University of Milan (Italy) and is Senior Legal Advisor at the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) of Berlin. The author worked on the submission in her capacity as senior legal advisor for international crimes at ECCHR.] On 1 July 2021 an important request  was submitted to the Office of...

[Dr. Chantal Meloni teaches international criminal law at the University of Milan is an Alexander von Humboldt Scholar at Humboldt University of Berlin.]

1. A new complaint (technically a Communication under art. 15 of the Rome Statute) has been lodged on the 10th of January to the Intentional Criminal Court, requesting the Prosecutor to open an investigation into the denounced abuses committed by UK military forces against Iraqi detainees from 2003 to 2008. The complaint has been presented by the British Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), representing more than 400 Iraqi victims, jointly with the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). The lawyers’ allegation is that grave mistreatments, including torture and other degrading abuse techniques, were commonly used during the six years in which the UK and Multinational Forces operated in Iraq. According to the victims’ account the mistreatment was so serious, widespread and spanned across all stages of detention as to amount to “systemic torture”. Out of hundreds of allegations, the lawyers focused in particular and in depth on eighty-five cases to represent the mistreatment and abuses inflicted, which would clearly amount to war crimes. 2. This is not the first time that the behaviour of the UK military forces in Iraq is challenged before the ICC. In fact, hundreds of complaints have been brought on various grounds both to domestic courts and to the ICC since the beginning of the war. As for the ICC, after the initial opening of a preliminary examination, following to over 404 communications by Iraqi victims, in 2006 the ICC Prosecutor issued a first decision determining not to open an investigation in the UK responsibilities in Iraq. According to that decision, although there was a reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court had been committed, namely wilful killing and inhumane treatment, the gravity threshold was not met. Indeed the number of victims that had been taken into account at that time was very limited, totalling in all less than 20 persons, so that the Prosecutor found that the ‘quantitative criteria’, a key consideration of the ICC prosecutorial strategy when assessing the gravity threshold, was not fulfilled. Therefore, what is there new that in the view of the lawyers warranted the re-proposition of such a request? In the first place it shall be noted in this regard that during the eight years that passed since then many more abuse allegations have emerged (see the Complaint, p. 110 ff.). Most notably, hundreds of torture and mistreatment allegations show a pattern - spanning across time, technique and location - which would indicate the existence of a (criminal) policy adopted by the UK military forces when dealing with the interrogation of Iraqi detainees under their custody. In the words of the lawyers, “it was not the result of personal misconduct on the part of a few individual soldiers, but rather, constituted widespread and systematic mistreatment perpetrated by the UK forces as a whole”.

[Dr. Chantal Meloni works at the University of Milan and is a von Humboldt scholar in Berlin. She is the co-editor of Is there a Court for Gaza?, T.M.C. Asser 2012)] The question that many scholars are dealing with in the past months, following the 3 April 2012 update by the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), is whether the Palestine-ICC chapter should be regarded as closed. In this short analysis I intend to delineate why, in my opinion, the Palestine-ICC chapter is far from over. The issue is of particular relevance in these very days for two reasons: as further explained below, over the next weeks both the UN General Assembly and the ICC Assembly of States Parties will have to deal (much depending on the choices of the Palestinian Authority) with the question of Palestine, which will ultimately have an impact on the possible opening of the investigation before the ICC. The starting point is that the 3 April 2012 update/memorandum/statement (as it has been variously called) by the OTP on the situation in Palestine is in fact a decision. This means that the preliminary examination on the situation is closed, as are the preliminary examinations of the situations of Iraq and Venezuela, which are indeed listed on the same ICC web page under the link "decision not to proceed” (which, by the way, is not the appropriate expression, since the decision not to proceed only comes at the end of the investigation stage, thus these cases should correctly be defined “decisions not to investigate”). According to internal OTP sources, the ambiguity contained in the “update”'s two pages and its deceptive title, was apparent to its authors. The final document - which was apparently issued in a rush notwithstanding 39 months of preliminary examination - was the result of diverging and irreconcilable positions inside the OTP, which allegedly led to the deletion of several arguments and the associated reasoning. I will refrain from criticizing again the poor content of these two pages, since other scholars have already well done it: see, among the others, the comments by Michael Kearney, and William Schabas. Irrespective of its merits, pursuant to article 15(6) of the Rome Statute, relevant actors, such as inter alia the victims’ representatives, who delivered information to the OTP and communicated with the office during the preliminary examination, should have been notified of the decision. The OTP alleges to have done so, and that more than 300 notifications were sent out, but apparently organizations like the PCHR, which represents hundreds of Gaza victims and provided information and documentation to the OTP, have not received any notification. Apart from these preliminary observations, some more substantial questions arise from the procedure which was adopted by the then Prosecutor – Luis Moreno Ocampo - to deal with the Palestine situation. These are more serious questions that go beyond the case at hand and touch upon the extent of the discretional powers of the Prosecutor and the judicial remedies provided before the ICC. Some of these questions are outlined below.