Law lords rule soldiers are subject to law


BRITAIN:The British House of Lords ruled yesterday that European human rights law does apply to British troops serving in Iraq in the case of an Iraqi man who died in their custody four years ago.

The decision means an independent inquiry, long resisted by the government, may now have to be conducted into the death of Baha Musa, an Iraqi hotel receptionist who died in September 2003 after being detained by British troops. It also means the government may have to order changes to the way British troops operate on deployment.

The law lords' ruling, by a majority of four to one, followed an appeal by the ministry of defence. A lower court will now decide if a public inquiry goes ahead.

"Today we've been successful in the House of Lords and that means there must now be a full, public and independent inquiry into what went wrong," Phil Shiner, a lawyer representing Baha Musa and other applicants, said. "It seems clear from the public record that serious errors of judgment have been made at senior levels both within the military and the government."

In response, the ministry of defence said European human rights laws had applied in Musa's case and that a court-martial over his death earlier this year, which found one soldier guilty of unlawful conduct, had been sufficient. The government had maintained that soldiers serving in Iraq should not necessarily be subject to Britain's Human Rights Act or the European Convention on Human Rights because they were operating in conflict in a foreign country.

The lords' ruling made clear, at least in the case of Baha Musa, that the legislation did apply to soldiers serving on British bases in Iraq or holding detainees in their custody.

Human rights campaigners were elated by the decision, which they said meant any British detention facility anywhere in the world was now covered. "Our law lords have today ensured that there can never be a British Guantanamo anywhere in the world. There can be no British detention facility where the law does not apply," said Shami Chakrabarti of rights group Liberty. - ( Reuters)