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UK Law Lords rule rights law covers death of Iraqi detainee in UK custody

[JURIST] The judicial panel of the UK House of Lords ruled [judgment text] Wednesday that Human Rights Act of 1998 (HRA) [text] applies to British soldiers overseas in the case of killed Iraqi detainee Baha Musa [Herald report]. The Law Lords upheld a lower court judgment [JURIST report] and held that because Musa was killed while under British detention he was therefore "within the jurisdiction" of the United Kingdom for the purposes of the HRA, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights [PDF text] into UK law. Liberty [advocacy website] Director Shami Chakrabarti hailed [press release] the decision as a "historic" ruling that would hold the UK government to its human rights obligations.

In the same judgment, however, the Lords ruled against the families of five Iraqis killed by British armed forces, ruling that because the killings did not occur within the UK's legal jurisdiction, the HRA did not apply. The Lords found that those deaths occurred when the UK was not in "effective control" of Basra, the region where the killings occurred, and therefore were outside the UK's legal jurisdiction. The UK Ministry of Defence [official website] has previously argued that the HRA was intended to protect European citizens, not Iraqis, and that applying the HRA in a combat zone would harmfully restrict British soldiers. The Lords also rejected a government argument that the families of the deceased should seek redress in the European Court of Human Rights [official website] not British courts, finding that the argument was "contrary to the central policy" of the Human Rights Act.

Musa died in 2003 after suffering 93 injuries, including a broken nose and broken ribs, during 36 hours of detention. A UK court dismissed charges [JURIST report] against seven soldiers [BBC trial timeline] believed to be responsible for his death earlier this year, though Musa's family is currently pursuing a lawsuit against the UK Defense Ministry [JURIST report]. Only one of the seven soldiers implicated, Corporal David Payne, was convicted on a charge related to Musa's death after pleading guilty [JURIST report] to inhumane treatment. Payne was sentenced to one year in jail [JURIST archive] and became the first convicted UK war criminal from the Iraq conflict. Other detainees confined with Musa were hooded and could not confirm the identities of the soldiers who caused Musa's death. AP has more. BBC News has additional coverage.

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