Howard warned on war crimes

(March 20 2003)

A broad range of church, humanitarian, civil liberties, union and community organisations are warning Prime Minister John Howard that he may be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court if US forces are involved in the excessive and unjustifiable death of Iraqi civilians or the devastation of non-military infrastructure.
Lawyers for 41 affiliates are today writing to Mr Howard over their clients' concerns that US military forces may commit violations of international humanitarian law when the proposed military action in Iraq proceeds.

If that occurs, and given that the Australian government has committed our forces to assist the Americans, the Victorian Peace Network affiliates are putting Mr Howard on notice that they will seek to have him and senior ministers investigated and, if appropriate, prosecuted for complicity in war crimes.

Under the International Criminal Court Statute it is a war crime to intentionally launch an attack "in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated".

Many of Australia's foremost experts in international law have expressed concern that attacking Iraq may involve committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

A committee of Australian legal experts will be set up to assess any evidence of complicity in any US war crimes or crimes against humanity.

If the Committee concludes that Australian politicians have been complicit in such crimes perpetrated in Iraq, the Committee will forward the information to the ICC Prosecutor and will urge the Prosecutor to initiate an investigation.

Fears that criminal actions may occur in Iraq are based on both recent military actions and the likely consequences of the planned attack on Iraq.

Serious breaches of international humanitarian law have been perpetrated during recent conflicts. One example, in the Gulf War, was the targeting of Iraq's electrical power facilities.

This caused the shutdown of water purification and sewage treatment plants, resulting in epidemics of gastroenteritis, cholera and typhoid, 100,000 civilian deaths and a doubling of the infant mortality rate.

In the proposed war, US military leaders have already warned that 3000 bombs would be unleashed in the first 48 hours.

British authorities have estimated that the proposed war could cause between 48,000 and 261,000 deaths on all sides within the first three months, with another 200,000 long term deaths from adverse health effects.

The Victorian Peace Network affiliates have retained law firm Slater & Gordon to represent them.
The letter to the Prime Minister was released on Thursday March 20 at 1 pm. FOR MORE INFORMATION: Marc Purcell Executive Officer Catholic Commission for Justice Development and Peace, Melbourne 383 Albert Street, East Melbourne 3002

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