Military violated international conventions, human rights groups argue
Human rights groups are accusing Danish soldiers of violating the UN convention against torture during a 2004 military operation in which 36 Iraqi civilians were abused and tortured before being held in custody for up to 70 days.
Twenty-three of the Iraqi civilians have since filed a lawsuit against the Defence Ministry arguing that Danish soldiers were complicit in delivering the civilians to Iraqi forces, which they subjected them to torture.
The operation was carried out by Danish, British and Iraqi soldiers and was aimed at four locations in the district of Al-Zubair. The operation was a search and seizure mission with the goal of capturing local militants responsible for the deployment of roadside bombs.
Last October a video recorded by Danish soldiers during the operation was released and clearly showed Iraqi civilians being kicked and abused by Iraqi security forces. The military initially denied that the video had been filmed by Danish soldiers, but following a military investigation admitted to the fact.
In a press release from Amnesty International, deputy secretary general Trine Christensen said Denmark had violated its international responsibilities during the operation.
“Denmark is a signatory of the UN Convention Against Torture and has therefore committed to investigate all allegations of torture,” said Christensen.
Amnesty claims Denmark violated article 12 of the convention, which obliges states to a “prompt and impartial investigation” whenever there is reason to believe that acts of torture have been committed.
Chief legal expert for Amnesty, Claus Juul, argued that as a Danish-led operation, the military had the ultimate responsibility for what happened.
“The prisoners were escorted to the Iraqi security base by Danish vehicles and when it becomes apparent that these prisoners were subjected to torture then Denmark is complicit,” Juul told Arbejderen newspaper.
The lawsuit the Iraqis have filed against the Defence Ministry is currently stuck at a technical impasse, in part because of a demand by Danish authorities that the plaintiffs pay 40,000 kroner in court fees, in order to bring the matter to court.
DIGNITY, the Danish institute against torture, co-signed with several other organisations an open letter to the defence minister, Nick Hækkerup, claiming that the plaintiffs should be allowed to avoid paying court fees, a request previously dismissed by the authorities.
Elna Søndergaard, DIGNITY’s legal advisor, argued that denying the plaintiffs legal aid violated human rights conventions.
“We believe that in regards to article six of the European Convention on Human Rights, the plaintiffs are being wrongly held out of the judicial system,” Søndergaard told The Copenhagen Post. “Torture victims are entitled access to the judiciary.”
The Iraqis, according to Søndergaard, cannot afford to pay the court fees.
“If the decision to deny them legal aids holds, then this case is affectively over”, she said.
There are few options available for the plaintiffs should the case be frozen out by the judiciary, as in order for the case to reach the European Court of Human Rights it must first be taken up in Denmark.
“In order to be able to bring your case to Strasbourg you must first receive a verdict from a national court system and then appeal that verdict to the European Court of Human Rights,” said Søndergaard.
Parliament’s defence committee is set to discuss whether Operation Green Desert involved a breach of the UN Convention Against Torture later today.