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Court rules UK rights law bars UK troops from abusing Iraqi prisoners

[JURIST] A British appellate court has ruled [opinion summary; full text] Thursday that British soldiers in Iraq are forbidden to subject Iraqi prisoners to cruel or degrading treatment while in their custody. The determination that the Human Rights Act [text] - a 1998 statute encating the European Convention on Human Rights into English law - applies to any British troop with control over a detainee overturns a High Court decision from last year that restricted the proper application of the act to detainees held in British prisons. The court held Wednesday, however, that the defendant soldiers did not violate the act when an Iraqi detainee, Baha Mousa, died in their custody, based on the given evidence, but authorized an independent inquiry into the incident. It has been alleged [Guardian article] that Mousa was kicked to death by British troops while in custody. The decision reasoned that "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." The UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) [official website] argued that the Human Rights Act was intended to protect European citizens, not Iraqis, and that its application in a combat zone would place too many restrictions on British soldiers, limiting their effectiveness. One judge also issued a harsh condemnation of the MoD's handling of the investigation of the incident, saying that "if international standards are to be observed, the task of investigating incidents in which a human life is taken by British forces must be completely taken away from the military chain of command and vested in the Royal Military police." The Guardian has local coverage.

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