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Iraq: European Parliament Urged To Investigate Civilian Deaths

The European Parliament is being urged to launch an investigation into the deaths of Iraqi civilians allegedly involving troops from European Union member states. The call is being made in Brussels by two leading members of the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru party in Britain. Both said what they see as a serious "lack of transparency" on the part of the EU governments involved is undermining the bloc's human rights standards.

Brussels, 20 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Adam Price, a member of the British Parliament for the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru party, is careful to underline that what he wants to investigate at this stage remain allegations.

Yet, he says reports of the deaths of as many as 250 Iraqi civilians at the hands of coalition forces in Iraq since 1 May should be of mounting concern for the European Union. At least three EU states whose troops are present in Iraq are implicated in some of the deaths -- Britain, the Netherlands, and Denmark.

Price says the deaths cast a shadow over the bloc's focus on human rights and threaten its future relations with the Muslim world. He says his calls for an independent and impartial inquiry have gone largely unheeded in national capitals, so he says he is turning to the European Parliament.

Price says he and Jill Evans, a Plaid Cymru deputy at the European Parliament, are particularly concerned about the killings allegedly involving EU troops.

"We're aware of some 25 Iraqi civilians who, it is alleged, were killed by British forces in Iraq. There are further incidents, obviously [those] that we're aware of, involving Danish troops, and also a recent incident, I think, involving a Dutch soldier, just over the Christmas period," Price says.

Price says none of these killings has been satisfactorily investigated. He says the British government, in particular, has displayed what he calls a "lack of transparency."

"I think that one of the concerns that we have -- certainly in the U.K. -- is the lack of transparency and accountability in the investigations of these civilian deaths. Clearly, any alleged death of an unarmed civilian at the hands of EU troops -- or troops from EU states -- is very, very [worrying]," he says.

Price said yesterday that the killing of civilians only appears to be subject to internal military investigations in each of the three countries concerned. He said insufficient public scrutiny in both European capitals and Iraq itself is compounded by an insufficient right to redress by the victims' families. Price said that under current rules, it is not possible to bring a case against the coalition in Iraq, and that families can only seek justice within the legal systems of the countries whose troops were involved in the killings.

Price said obtaining information about the cases has been a "tortuous" process. He said neither the U.S. nor the British governments has agreed to publish figures for civilian deaths in Iraq since the end of major hostilities was declared on 1 May.

Price says exercising his privilege as a deputy to ask parliamentary questions has been one of his main sources of information.
"We've had to ask things like, how many families have they compensated, how many claims for compensation they've received, and it's through that process that we've arrived at some of these figures. So, they've admitted that there have been 17 investigations by the Royal Military Police, which is essentially the investigative arm within the British armed forces which conducts internal investigations. They've investigated 17 separate cases where they believe there were grounds for the suspicion that there may have been an unlawful killing," Price says.
"I think that one of the concerns that we have -- certainly in the U.K. -- is the lack of transparency and accountability in the investigations of these civilian deaths."

Price says the government has admitted to having paid compensation to three Iraqi families amounting to about $15,000 for three deaths. These, Price says, are "ad hoc" payments that do not constitute an admission of guilt. He says the British authorities are still investigating another 13 deaths. One case has been dismissed as a result of natural causes -- a heart attack while in custody.

Price says that since none of the three countries involved has so far launched an independent inquiry into the deaths, he is asking the European Parliament to set up its own investigation.

"Article Two of the European Convention of Human Rights, of course, clearly states that there is a right to life which necessitates an impartial and independent investigation," he says. "That certainly is not happening in the case of the U.K., and there are questions as to whether it's happening in the other countries I [have] referred to. One of the reasons I'm here is to ask the European Parliament if it can institute its own investigation into the actions of European member states' forces in Iraq."

Price's Plaid Cymru colleague, Jill Evans, said yesterday she would first discuss the matter within her own faction, which brings together European greens and deputies from "unrepresented nations" in Europe.

"I'll be raising this firstly with the Greens/European Free Alliance political group, because the way an investigation could take place is if [the European] Parliament decided to set up a temporary committee, which is something which would have to come from a proposal of the conference of presidents [of factions]. So we'd have to work through that route. But obviously, we want to move with people from other countries [as] we have done throughout the past year with the conflict going on," Evans said.

Any inquiry remains unlikely without the support of either the conservatives or Social Democrats -- the two biggest factions in the European Parliament.

Price yesterday warned that inaction over the deaths also could harm the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy by leaving the EU open to charges of operating using double standards. He also said the current situation could have long-term implications for relations between the EU and the Arab and Islamic worlds.

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