The Danish Supreme Court held in a judgment of 31 May 2022 (case 134/2018), that Danish law should be applied for tort liability for assaults committed during the military operation Green Desert in Iraq in 2004.
In the aftermath of the war in Iraq in 2003, Iraq was controlled and administrated by international coalition forces. Danish troops took part in the coalition between 2003 and 2007. In 2004, Danish and British troops collaborated with Iraqi military in a search and arrest operation called “Green Desert”. During the operation, several Iraqis claimed that they were subject to torture. For this maltreatment, 18 Iraqis filed a civil lawsuit against the Danish Defence Authority for tort compensation in Denmark.
In its judgment, the Danish Supreme Court found that it was proven that Iraqis had been subject to assault during operation Green Desert. Whether the Danish Defence Authority could be held liable for the assaults should be decided according to Danish law and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The conclusion to apply Danish law was not elaborated in the judgment. However, the Danish Supreme Court notes that pursuant to section 18 in the Coalition Provisional Authority’s Order 17, third party claims shall be dealt with “in a manner consistent with the Sending State’s laws, regulations and procedures”. Regardless of whether the order could be seen as having status of Iraqi law or not, the Supreme Court held that its status does not matter as it points out Danish law to be applicable. Perhaps, this statement by the Supreme Court can be interpreted as an allowing attitude to the doctrine of renvoi as it seems that a remission to Danish law would be accepted if Iraqi law would have been pointed out by Danish choice of law rules. As the judgment is not at all framed as a private international law matter, such conclusions shall probably be cautiously made.
In substance, the Danish Supreme Court held that the Iraqi plaintiffs were not entitled to compensation according to the Danish Damages Act’s Section 26 on liability for torts as it was not proven that assault was conducted by Danish troops. Nor was it proven that the Danish troops should have known or understood that collaborating Iraqi military personnel would conduct assault to the civilians. Eventually, the Supreme Court held that nor did the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) lead to a different result. In this part, the Supreme Court concluded that the alleged assaults were conducted on territory controlled by Iraq. Hence, Denmark lacked public international law jurisdiction, which is a prerequisite for application of the ECHR according to Article 1.