ISTANBUL (Reuters) - International anti-war advocates accused the United States and Britain on Friday of committing war crimes in the invasion and occupation of Iraq in a symbolic "tribunal" in Turkey's largest city.
Former U.N. officials, legal experts and human rights activists said they convened the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI), to examine whether the 2003 invasion was an "illegal aggressive war". It has no binding authority and no officials were present to defend the U.S.-led war. A "verdict" is due on Monday.
U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair declined invitations to appear at the tribunal.
"The war and occupation challenges us to face the threat to international law by the actions of the U.S. and UK," said British international human rights lawyer Phil Shiner.
"The International Criminal Court (should) fulfil its functions to make those responsible for these war crimes and crimes against humanity accountable through principles of individual criminal liability," he said.
The lack of U.N. support for the war and "disproportionate" use of military force had violated international law, he said.
The U.S. and British governments have argued Iraq's suspected breach of U.N. resolutions on weapons of mass destruction had made the invasion legal and necessary.
Some panel members also took the U.N. to task.
"The United Nations failed in preventing unjust economic sanctions, an illegal war and carnage under occupation," said Hans von Sponeck, U.N. assistant secretary-general until 2000.
"The U.N. remained mute when (the United States and Britain) dropped out of the international community to unilaterally mount an illegal invasion into Iraq," he said.
"NO OPEN DEBATE"
The proceedings consisted of presentations by opponents of the war to a "jury of conscience".
A U.S. official criticised a lack of open debate at the tribunal.
"The statements of the organisers have indicated that this is not a two-way discussion," said the official, who was not present at the proceedings.
Arundhati Roy, India's Booker Prize-winning novelist, deflected criticism the tribunal amounted to a kangaroo court.
"Questions have been raised that this tribunal represents only one point of view," she said. "This would suggest the views of the U.S. government have somehow gone unrepresented. (We) are aware of the arguments in support of the war."
Organiser Richard Falk of Santa Barbara University in California said NATO member Turkey was chosen to host the WTI because of its 2003 refusal to permit its ally to invade Iraq from its soil, but Turkey also bore blame for allowing the U.S. military to use its bases before and after the war.
"This tribunal will show that such complicity engages legal responsibility for Turkey and other governments in the region that support directly or indirectly such aggressive warmaking."
Despite close diplomatic and military links, relations between the two countries have been fraught since the war.
A survey by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre this week showed only 23 percent of Turks have a favourable view of the United States, compared to 52 percent in 2000.
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