Thursday, December 22, 2005

UK troops in Iraq bound by Human Rights Act

The UK Court of Appeal has ruled that Iraqi detainees fall under the protection of the Human Rights Act - including the right to freedom from torture or other degreading treatment - from the moment they are arrested by British, extending a previous ruling which had held this to be the case only when they are actually in a British-controlled prison. One Judge even proposed that there were good grounds to suggest that the duty under the Act to protect certain fundamental rights, particularly the right to life, should be understood as extending to streets patrolled by British troops. The case in question concerned the death of Baha Mousa, an Iraqi hotel receptionist who died after being arrested by UK forces. 5 other cases of death allegedly caused bythem were held not to fall under the Human Rights Act.

One passage worthy of note, from Lord Justice Brooke, on the right to life in areas under the control of British troops: "It could be difficult for a European government to decide to pursue policies that treated human life as more readily expendable just because those whom their forces kill are not themselves European".

This decision, then, sorts out some potentially thorny jurisdictional issues in terms of the UK occupation of Southern Iraq. It doesn't, I don't think, impose any new obligations on the soldiers involved - the right to life and freedom from torture are already protected under international law - but by opening up a clear path for redress of such actions through the domestic, rather than military, courts, it will hopefully ensure that the troops and their leaders will be more inclined to actually pay attention to them. Nothing concentrates the mind like the prospect of genuine accountablity through enforceability.

It may be worth just noting, however, that, if one of the arguments made quite powerfully in the Pinochet case is accepted, namely that customary international law is properly regarded as forming part of the common law of England, then there would have been valid jurisdictional avenues open in any event: few would today suggest that the prohibition on torture, for example, did not form part of customary international law - and certainly not, it would seem, the House of Lords. Still, in extending the scope of the Human Rights Act in this manner, the Appeal Court has ensured that such potentially controversial solutions remain academic.

1 comment:

human_rights_power said...

I know there are many human rights issues involved with the war in Iraq. But I think that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights covers everything that's happening and should be taught to all soldiers.

Violations of human rights are a common problem and give increase to ethnic, racial and religious conflicts;
In 1984, because of the devastation created by World War II, the United Nations (U.N.) adopted the *Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
The Declaration represents a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, and is *endorsed by 191 *U.N. member states
Even with its truly universal character, it is little known by most citizens, and no nation actively promotes and sees to its full application

The above is true, go to the site below and sign the Human Rights Education petition.

(copy and paste ^this^ into the address bar to go to the site.)

It would be great to send this out to as many people as possible. As it covers everything you just said.

* Universal; relating to, affecting, or accepted by the whole world.
* Endorse; to make a public statement of your approval or support for something.
*U.N. Member State; Country, state, etc. that is part of the United Nations.