( LatWp ) - Britain's highest-ranking court sent a stern message to the country's military Wednesday, ruling that detainees held in British facilities throughout the world are protected under both the European Convention on Human Rights and British laws.
The House of Lords upheld an appeal by the father of 26-year-old Baha Mousa, a detainee in Iraq who died while in British custody. Mousa sustained 93 injuries, including broken ribs and a broken nose, according to lawyers for his family.
But the lords, who act as the nation's highest-ranking court, dismissed the cases of five other Iraqi civilians killed by British troops because the deaths occurred in the streets of Basra and not on British-owned or occupied territory. Lawyers for the five families said they would take their cases to the European Court of Human Rights.
Human rights activists applauded the Mousa ruling, arguing that the government must be held accountable for detainee conditions not just on British soil but throughout the world.
``There could now never be a British Guantanamo,'' said Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty, a human rights organization that helped bring the case to court, during a news conference. ``The British will never be able to build a prison anywhere in the world and say it is a legal black hole.''
While there is no immediate impact from the ruling outside of Mousa's case, human rights activists hope to use it to force government officials to clarify their policies on harsh treatment of detainees and to hold senior military leaders, not just lower-ranking jailers, accountable when standards are breached.
British troops detained Mousa in 2003 while he was working as a receptionist in a Basra hotel. He was taken to a military base where he was ``brutally beaten by British troops,'' according to court documents.
He later died of injuries sustained during ``conditioning,'' during which troops tortured him to make interrogation more effective, Mousa's lawyers said.
The House of Lord's decision to extend human rights laws to detainees in the custody of British forces comes after a three-year legal battle between Mousa's father, Daoud, and the British government, which appealed a lower court decision.
In 2005 the Court of Appeals ruled that Britain's Human Rights Act, established in 1998, protects people detained by British officials throughout the world.
The government appealed this decision, arguing that the Ministry of Defense had accomplished its duty to reprimand the use of torture by court-martialing a soldier who pleaded guilty to the brutalization of Mousa.
``We want the public to understand that British troops have always worked under English law and the Geneva Convention, both of which make torture an offense,'' said Ministry of Defense spokesman Nick Manning. ``The court-martial was an open proceeding and it was that investigation which led to (a) conviction.''
Human rights activists argue that the court-martial, which resulted in the dismissal and imprisonment of Cpl. Donald Payne, was insufficient because the military used the accused as a scapegoat and let other guilty soldiers escape punishment.
``The rulings recognize that the U.K. has an obligation to conduct an effective investigation set out in the European Convention,'' said Carla Ferstman, director of Redress, a human rights organization involved in the case.
``You can't have a superfluous investigation,'' she said. ``There is a need for those in government to investigate with a view to holding all people responsible.''
Human rights groups vowed to continue probing detainee abuse, and will take their case back to the lower courts in hopes of conducting an independent public inquiry.
The Ministry of Defense, however, maintains that troop conduct is unlikely to change following the decision because torture has been long banned under the European Convention on Human Rights.
``We are looking at the things we could do better,'' said Manning. ``Steps taken today are fully compliant with U.K. law and the Geneva Convention.''