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Iraq: UK War Inquiry Should Cover Rights

Investigate Allegations of Serious Abuses Committed Against Civilians, Detainees

LONDON - The British Government's Inquiry into its Iraq War policies should include human rights abuses as part of its investigation, Human Rights Watch said today.

Sir John Chilcot, chairman of the independent inquiry, which began on July 30, 2009, will examine policies in the period leading up to the conflict as well as the United Kingdom's participation in military action and subsequent reconstruction. Neither the government nor Chilcot has indicated that the inquiry will include an examination of human rights abuses that British troops and Iraqi troops under their supervisions are accused of committing.

"This inquiry needs to include human rights abuses if the UK really wants a clear and comprehensive picture of the consequences of its actions in Iraq," said Tom Porteous, London director at Human Rights Watch. "If the inquiry limits itself to the legality of the war, it won't reveal the whole picture."


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In a letter sent to Chilcot on August 4, Human Rights Watch called on the inquiry to:

  • Investigate allegations of widespread or serious abuses committed against Iraqi civilians and detainees by British forces and private security companies under contract with the British government and elements of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq;
  • Investigate abuses attributed to Iraqi security forces working under the supervision of British forces, and abuses committed by Iraqi authorities against persons handed over to them by British forces;
  • Ensure that the most serious allegations, including unlawful killings, torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, have been addressed by full public inquiries leading to the identification and prosecution of those accused of responsibility for ordering or carrying out these violations;
  • Evaluate the United Kingdom's denials that human rights law applied to certain aspects of its Iraq involvements and other signs that it may have attempted to avoid its human rights responsibilities; and
  • Develop recommendations to address steps British forces should take in future armed conflicts to reduce the likelihood of serious human rights or international humanitarian law violations, and to ensure that any violations are speedily and independently investigated and, where necessary, prosecuted.

The inquiry, which will be conducted by privy counselors and chaired by Chilcot, will take evidence over a number of months, and a report of the inquiry's findings will be made public. Some hearings, scheduled to begin in the autumn and continue into early 2010, will be open to the public.

The UK government had resisted calls for a public inquiry, stating that it could endanger British forces still serving in Iraq. However, Prime Minister Gordon Brown reversed course in June as combat operations came to a halt, with only 150 troops remaining in Iraq.


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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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