Blair could face international court over war conduct

Donald MacLeod
Thursday November 6, 2003
The 6.1

 Government ministers, including Tony Blair, could potentially face international prosecution for war crimes over the conduct of the war in Iraq, the organiser of a legal debate into the conflict, said today.

International law experts will be picking over the government's legal case for going to war in Iraq and the way the occupation is being conducted at an all-day public debate on Saturday.

A panel of eight leading lawyers from the UK, Canada, France and Ireland will debate the question: "Was it legal to go to war?" and are expected to cover topics such as the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium, the targeting of civilian buildings and the military occupation. The debate at the London School of Economics is open to the public.

Dr Andrew Williams, of Warwick University's law department, who is organising the event, said: "We don't know if war crimes have been committed or if global laws have been violated but there are troublesome aspects that deserve examination and inquiry."

He said that the legality of the war was a key concern at the time and that the Attorney General was required to back the government with an opinion, but the way the war was conducted might also become a matter for the international criminal court. The UK is signed up to this court, although the US is not. Potentially the court could prosecute the UK for the use of cluster bombs or targeting civilians and the case might be looked on more seriously if the war was judged to have been illegal in the first place, said Dr Williams.

"If the strategy of conflict is authorised by government figures then that is where the buck stops. If there is an opinion that there is a case to investigate over the strategy and conduct of the war and occupation, that responsibility would have to lie at the head of government. It's not a question 'is Tony Blair guilty of war crimes?' - that would take us into the realms of campaigning which we are trying to avoid."

He added: "We want a reasoned and independent inquiry into these issues so that when a report is produced it will be treated seriously."

His colleague Professor Upendra Baxi, an expert on international law who will be on the panel, said that in recent weeks the credibility of the case for an invasion of Iraq had been eroded. "It is now clear that there was no imminent threat to the UK. Evidence to suggest that the government misled the country has to be scrutinised very carefully if democracy, transparency and honesty are to be respected," said Professor Baxi.

Throughout the day experts and eyewitnesses will present evidence to the panel and members of the public will have the chance to pose questions.

The other members of the panel will be: William Schabas, professor of human rights law at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights; Christine Chinkin, professor of international law at the London School of Economics; Bill Bowring, professor of human rights and international law at London Metropolitan University; René Provost, associate professor faculty of law McGill University, Canada; Paul Tavernier, professor at the Faculté Jean Monnet, and director of the Centre de recherches et d'é tudes sur les droits de l'Homme et le droit humanitaire at the Université de Paris Sud; Nick Grief, Steele Raymond professor of law and head of the school of finance and law at the University of Bournemouth; and Guy Goodwin-Gill, barrister, senior research fellow, All Souls College Oxford.
· November 8, 10am to 6pm at the Old Theatre, LSE Theatre, London.
Members of the public wishing to attend should contact Solange Mouthaan at © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003