Detainees human rights breached by British Government says European Court

European Court condemns British Government over human rights

02 March 2010

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) today found that the British government’s treatment of two Iraqi nationals who were held in British custody in Basra until the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq breached their human rights.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission intervened in the case which concerned Faisal Al-Saadoon and Khalaf Mufdhi. The men were arrested in Basra in 2003 on suspicion of involvement in the murder of two British servicemen. At the expiration of the UN mandate on 31 December 2008, which authorised the role of British forces in arrest, detention and imprisonment tasks in Iraq, the men were handed over to the Iraqi High Tribunal for trial. This was in contravention of an interim order from the ECtHR.

In a judgment delivered today, the ECtHR found that the government’s arrest and detention of the men violated their rights under Articles 3, 13 and 34 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The ECtHR criticised the government for failing to take all reasonable steps to comply with its interim order and to obtain assurance from the Iraqi authorities that the men would not face the death penalty. They said:

'Judicial execution involves the deliberate and premediated destruction of a human being... the foreknowledge of death at the hands of the state must inevitably give rise to intense psychological suffering.

'At least since Mary 2006... the applicants were subjected to a well-founded fear of execution.

'Causing the applicants psychological suffering of this nature and degree constituted inhuman treatment.'

The Commission had submitted to the Court that where Britain’s international law obligations conflict with their obligations under the ECtHR, human rights considerations should prevail. The ECtHR agreed confirming that human rights considerations are paramount in cases such as this and that “it is not open to a Contracting State to enter into an agreement with another state which conflicts with its obligations under the Convention”.

The ECtHR has urged the government to take all possible steps to obtain an assurance from the Iraqi authorities that the two men will not be subjected to the death penalty.

Susie Uppal, Director of the Commission’s enforcement team, said the decision confirms the primacy of human rights law.

'At the heart of the European Convention on Human Rights, and indeed the legal heritage of the United Kingdom, lies the principle that human rights are paramount. They must not be diminished or overridden.

'There can be no debating the fact that the ultimate human right is the right to life. The British government’s failure to respect this right in this case raises serious concerns about their respect for the rule of law.'


For more press information contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

For general enquiries please contact the Commission’s national helpline: England 0845 604 6610, Scotland 0845 604 5510 or Wales 0845 604 8810.

Notes to Editors

Read the judgment: Al-Saadoon and Mufdhi v The United Kingdom.


Faisal Al-Saadoon and Khalaf Mufdhi were arrested in Iraq for suspected involvement in the murder of two British servicemen. They were held in British custody in Basra without trial.

27 December 2007
Following transfer of the case to the Iraqi High Tribunal, the Tribunal formally requested transfer of the applicants into its custody.

12 June 2008
The applicants brought judicial review proceedings in England challenging the legality of the transfer.

19 December 2008
The British High Court ruled that handing the men over to the Iraqi High Tribunal for trial would be lawful.

30 December 2008
The British Court of Appeal upheld the ruling.

30 December 2008
The European Court of Human Rights issued ‘interim measures’ preventing the transfer of the men to Iraqi authorities.

31 December 2008
The UN mandate authorising British military presence in Basra expired. It was replaced by a UK-Iraqi agreement that did not allow for the continued detention of the men.

31 December 2008
The British government handed the men over to Iraqi authorities in contravention of the ruling of the ECtHR.

9 September 2009
The Iraqi High Tribunal cancelled the charges against the men due to insufficient evidence and ordered their release. The public prosecutor immediately appealed and it was ordered that they remain in custody until the outcome of the appeal.

Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.