'Historic prosecution' for armed services

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The Independent Online

The first successful war crimes prosecution of a British serviceman will serve as a warning to all armed forces personnel that their conduct abroad is to be judged by the strict rules of international law.

Corporal Donald Payne, 35, of the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, is one of seven British soldiers facing court martial over the death in custody three years ago of an Iraqi hotel receptionist in the southern city of Basra. Yesterday he pleaded guilty to a war crimes charge of inhumanely treating civilians. His conviction follows the introduction of the International Criminal Court Act 2001, which clarifies Britain's obligations to the prosecution of war crimes.

Peter Carter QC, the international human rights lawyer, said: "This is an historic prosecution. It means that the armed services take their obligations to international human rights law seriously and that every soldier will know that their actions are now subject to humanitarian law and they must ensure that they take account of this when performing their duties. It is good news for the reputation of the British Army."

The three servicemen charged under the International Criminal Court Act 2001 are not facing trial in The Hague, where the court is based, and would only do so if the British authorities declined to put the men on trial in the UK.

The International Criminal Court is supposed to be complementary to national criminal jurisdictions and is governed by the provisions of the Rome Statute, signed by Britain in 2001. America has refused to sign it.