The British High Court ruled on Friday that a series of public investigations should be held into the alleged killings of Iraqi civilians at the hands of members of the British military during the course of Britain’s occupation of southeastern Iraq between 2003 and 2009.
The case in question was brought forward three years ago by a group of Iraqi citizens who claim to have been mistreated or have relatives who were allegedly killed unlawfully by members of the British armed forces. A relative of Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist who died in 2003 while held at an interrogation center by British forces in Basra, was amongst the claimants.
Landmark Chmbers summarises the case as follows:
R (Mousa) v Secretary of State for Defence (No. 2) was a judicial review brought by (i) 135 Iraqis alleging that they were subjected to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment across the 6-year period of the UK’s involvement in Iraq, from the start of combat operations in March 2003 until the UK withdrawal in December 2008; and (ii) 38 Iraqis alleging that a relative was unlawfully killed by British forces in Iraq.
Following the groundbreaking ruling, over a hundred hearings are now likely to be held, each subject to a “full, fair and fearless investigation accessible to the victim’s families and to the public.” Hearings will be centered on cases of Iraqi civilian deaths at the hands of alleged torturers or in other disputed or unclear circumstances.
Future hearings have been advised to follow the model of coroner inquests. In the UK, coroner inquests investigate by what means and under what circumstances a person died. The court believes this is the best way to ensure that Britain complies with its legal obligation to respect the right to life, as specified under article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). As ordered by the court, within six weeks of the ruling, the British Ministry of Defense must hold inquests into all remaining cases and announce whether any of these cases will result in prosecution. In the event that prosecuting decisions cannot be made within this timeframe, the Ministry of Defense will have to offer a full explanation for the delays.
The court has signaled that these hearings will be only the beginning of a long process of investigations into accusations of misconduct by members of the British armed forces during the occupation of Iraq. It is estimated that more than 700 cases involving the most serious allegations of torture and other forms of mistreatment of Iraqi detainees will successively be brought forward.
This ruling, which comes after years of protracted and suspended proceedings and which faced tough opposition from the Ministry of Defense, is expected to put significant limits on future British military operations and the way Britain conducts interrogations of both civilians and combatants.
The Iraqi claimants welcomed the ruling, hoping it would lead to greater accountability in the way such cases are investigated.
For a summary of the court ruling see here.