Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Thursday, 24 November 2011

British Human Rights abuses in Iraq

Iraq war protest poster (c) Random McRandomhead

Reprinted in full from The Pryer

Over 100 Iraqi civilians have won their case in the UK Court of Appeal for an public inquiry to be held into alleged abuses they suffered at the hands of British military personnel. This follows an earlier decision that a public hearing was not necessary because the UK government had set up the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) to look into these allegations. Today's ruling questions the independence of IHAT. But more than this, we should be concerned with the role of UK government, its tentacles of office and their efforts to bypass human rights legislation. In this case, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and G4S. 

Back in June, the BBC reported that IHAT had conducted interviews with just one of the alleged victims in the first 7 months of its work. Furthermore, the complainants and those representing them claim that investigators are not following agreed guidelines in gathering their evidence. Whilst the independence of IHAT has rightly been questioned, given that some of the investigators had served with a military police unit responsible for detaining Iraqi civilians, of the 83 members of staff in IHAT, 38 have been provided by G4S. 

G4S have a rather checkered history, including their handling of people of different ethnic origins. Re-branded several times over the last decade (Group 4, Group 4 Falck, Group 4 Securicor), an industrial tribunal upheld a racial discrimination claim against Group 4 submitted by a job applicant. The Prisons and Probations Ombudsman found evidence of several racist incidents involving employees of Group 4 Falck running the Yarls Wood detention centre, including one assault that they had failed to investigate properly. Only last year, 3 G4S employees were arrested in connection with the death of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan refugee, who was being escorted on a flight from the UK. A year before in Australia, a coroner found that G4S security guards had contributed to the death of an Aboriginal man who had been arrested for drink driving.

Some of the Iraqi complainants have alleged rape. Any interview would require an investigator to be compassionate and culturally sensitive - not characteristics associated with G4S. This begs the question as to why the UK government, and in this case, the MoD, would contract G4S in the commission of obtaining evidence from Iraqi nationals. Are the MoD afraid of what a public inquiry might find out?

If the public inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa is anything to go by, then yes. In September, The Telegraph reported:
 The inquiry, chaired by Sir William Gage, a retired judge, found the Ministry of           Defence guilty of a “corporate failure” to uphold basic standards by allowing rules to go “largely forgotten”. While clearing the soldiers’ unit, the 1st Bn Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, of having an “entrenched culture of violence”, he said it was clear the abuses were not a one-off.
Consequently, lawyers for families of victims may yet prosecute the 19 soldiers implicated by the report, despite the fact that several had already been acquitted in military tribunals. This backs up the concerns raised in today's judgement regarding the independence of such investigations.

I do not condone the actions of any military personnel who may have, or may not have, abused Iraqi civilians, but the MoD, and the UK government, should be held more accountable for these abuses. That Sir William Gage found the MoD guilty of corporate failure to uphold basic standards of engagement, implies that human rights abuses are tolerated institutionally. That being the case, and given that soldiers become institutionalised within a hierarchical atmosphere in which they have to follow the orders of their seniors, is it a surprise that some troops may have committed human right abuses? More pertinently, if human rights abuses are tolerated institutionally, is it right that they stand alone accused of human rights abuses?

The legality of the UK government's intervention in Iraq is debatable. Although this is not the space for this argument, it has implications for those who have suffered abuse and for those soldiers accused of abuse. We should not forget that the MoD has been found wanting in ensuring that troops got the resources that they needed. For families of some UK soldiers who were killed in Iraq, the MoD has been found guilty of negligence. In other words, soldiers were fighting on behalf of an UK government who failed to supply them with what they needed. 

From fighting negligence claims by nuclear test veterans who suffered ill health, including cancer, to contaminating Dalgety Bay, the MoD cares little for its troops or the British public. Perhaps the final paragraph of The Telegraph article is most telling:
Despite the criticism, Dr Fox rejected a key recommendation in the report for a blanket ban on so-called “harsh” questioning methods, warning that lives could be put at risk unless the Forces could deploy all “necessary” techniques.
Why then should soldiers stand alone accused of human rights abuses, when the UK government sponsors and tolerates abuse in the UK and elsewhere?

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