Britain's high court issues stern warning on detainees

June 14, 2007|By Los Angeles Times

London -- Britain's highest court sent a stern message to the country's military yesterday, ruling that detainees held in British facilities throughout the world are protected under both the European Convention on Human Rights and British laws.

The House of Lords upheld an appeal by the father of Baha Mousa, a 26-year-old detainee in Iraq who died in British custody in 2003. Mousa suffered 93 injuries, including broken ribs and a broken nose, according to lawyers for his family.

But the lords, who act as the nation's high court, dismissed the cases of five other Iraqi civilians killed by British troops because the deaths occurred in the streets of Basra and not on British-owned or -occupied territory. Lawyers for the five families said they would take their cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

Human rights activists applauded the Mousa ruling, arguing that the government must be held accountable for detainee conditions not just on British soil but throughout the world.

"There could now never be a British Guantanamo," said Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty, a human rights organization that helped bring the case to court. "The British will never be able to build a prison anywhere in the world and say it is a legal black hole."

While there is no immediate impact from the ruling outside of Mousa's case, human rights activists hope to use it to force government officials to clarify their policies on harsh treatment of detainees and to hold senior military leaders, not just lower-ranking jailers, accountable when standards are breached.

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