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UK/Iraq: Abuse Report an Opportunity for Reform

Iraqi Died in UK Army Custody in 2003 After Beatings

(London) – The findings on September 8, 2011, of the inquiry into the death of an Iraqi detained by British soldiers in 2003 provide an opportunity for the United Kingdom government to reform its military detention and justice systems, Human Rights Watch said today. The UK should ensure that all those responsible are held accountable and that such abuse does not take place again, Human Rights Watch said.

After a three-year inquiry, the report found that Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist, died in the custody of the British Army’s 1st Battalion the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment (1QLR) in 2003. He had been repeatedly beaten and suffered inhuman and degrading treatment such as “hooding” and stress positions, practices the British government in 1972 had said would never be used again. A post-mortem found that he had 93 injuries, including a broken nose and fractured ribs. The inquiry's report condemned inadequate detention procedures, leadership failures, poor training, a loss of discipline, and a lack of “moral courage” among soldiers to report abuse.

“Baha Mousa is the most famous case, but it is only one of many, suggesting that serious abuse took place in British military detention in Iraq,” said Clive Baldwin, Senior Legal Adviser at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to ensure that all detainees from now on are brought before a judge, and all those responsible for abuse and war crimes, whatever the seniority, are brought to justice.”

The inquiry's key recommendations include:

  • A comprehensive ban on hooding, stress positions, and the other techniques prohibited in 1972, coupled with systematic training to ensure that the ban is understood and applied;
  • Independent inspection of military places of detention, preferably with the full involvement of the UK civilian prisons inspectorate (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons, HMIP);
  • The designation of a single officer responsible for supervising detention; and
  • An improved detention records system.

“Britain needs to practice in its own armed forces precisely what it preaches elsewhere,” Baldwin said. “That is that human rights apply at all times and in all places, and that those in positions of authority who fail to prevent crimes should themselves be prosecuted.”

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