Families of slain Iraqis take case to UK's Lords

LONDON (Reuters) - Families of six Iraqis killed by British forces will appeal to Britain’s highest court on Tuesday in the hope of winning the right to sue the government under European human rights laws.

Lawyers are seeking to persuade the House of Lords, the upper chamber of parliament which also sits as Britain’s highest court, to overturn a ruling that European human rights laws adopted in Britain do not apply in Iraq.

“If we win this case, there will be a human rights obligation on our government to ensure an independent investigation into these issues,” Shami Chakrabarti, director of rights group Liberty, told a news conference on Monday.

“This is about holding government and the highest levels of the military properly to account in a democracy.”

One of the six, 26 year-old Baha Musa, died in British custody of 93 separate injuries after being hooded and subjected to beatings. The other five were civilian casualties of combat.

The families’ lawyers argue that all six were deprived of the right to life under the human rights act, and Musa was also deprived of the right not to be tortured.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense says the human rights act does not apply outside Britain. It has prosecuted soldiers for Musa’s death under other laws, and argues that the five other cases were a result of legitimate combat incidents.

In Musa’s case, one British soldier has already pleaded guilty to mistreating prisoners and is awaiting sentencing. Six other soldiers had charges dropped at trial or were acquitted.

Britain has held two other high profile courts martial in cases of Iraqis who died in British custody, but those collapsed with no convictions.

The criminal trials “were a shamble and a farce,” said lawyer Phil Shiner, who has represented several Iraqi civilians in cases against the British government. The Lords decision is expected in late June or July, Shiner said.