It’s About Control

No. 34 of #50cases

Sometimes you lose control of your life, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Sometimes your human rights are all you have left.

Three years behind bars without a criminal charge. That’s wrong. We can probably all agree about that, right? And take it from us, that’s a clear breach of the human right not to be unlawfully detained. You can’t imprison people for years with no good reason.

What about three years behind bars in a British military prison? What if it was whilst the UK was controlling parts of Iraq following the 2003 Iraq War? Things get a bit muddier. More questions. Does the British Army have human rights responsibilities? Where do they begin and end, in a military prison, on the streets of Basra, if the Army are busy stopping themselves getting blown up, can they realistically be responsible for the human rights of the local population?

Those were the live questions in Hilal Abdul-Razzaq Ali Al-Jedda’s case. In 2004 he was arrested on suspicion of being involved in smuggling weapons and an explosives expert into Iraq. He was taken to a detention centre in Basra run by British forces. He remained in detention, without being charged, for three years.He applied to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that the UK had breached his right to liberty under the Human Rights Convention. But did the Convention apply?

The Court said yes, the Convention did apply to military prisons. The key was ‘effective control’. The more control the state has over a situation, the more likely it would be that human rights protections apply. It makes sense, if you think about it. If an authority has, in essence, total control over an environment, like a prison, why shouldn’t the prisoners be protected by human rights laws?

The court didn’t go as far as saying that human rights laws apply on the battlefield, which if you think about it, makes sense too. Nobody has control there.

This story is a short summary of a legal decision. You can read the full text here

Media Coverage of this story