For Immediate Release
Libyan Rendition Victims’ Case Must Be Heard, Court of Appeal Rules
Britain’s Court of Appeal has today ruled that a husband and wife who were rendered to Gaddafi’s prisons, in a long-secret part of Tony Blair’s 2004 ‘deal in the desert,’ are to be allowed their day in court.
The case, Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and anor v Jack Straw and ors, was first brought by former Gaddafi opponent Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar in late 2011. Documents unearthed that September from the Libyan spy chief’s abandoned Tripoli office showed that UK officials conspired with CIA and Libyan intelligence agents to kidnap the couple from exile in Southeast Asia and ‘render’ them back to Gaddafi. At the time of the rendition, Mrs Boudchar was several months pregnant. Mr Belhaj spent years in Libyan prison and was repeatedly tortured.
The UK government had argued that the case should never to go trial because it would damage UK-US relations. In December 2013 the High Court dismissed the case on this basis. Today’s Court of Appeal judgment clears the way for the couple to take their case to trial, more than two years after they first launched legal proceedings against the UK government.
The Court of Appeal said that, while the trial of the couple’s rendition was likely to require a British Court to assess the wrongfulness of acts by the CIA and Libyan agents, this was no reason to bar the claim. It gave weight to the allegations in the case of “particularly grave violations of human rights,” (para. 116), and stressed that “the stark reality is that unless the English courts are able to exercise jurisdiction in this case, these very grave allegations against the executive will never be subjected to judicial investigation” (para. 119).
During his time in Gaddafi’s torture chambers, Mr Belhaj was visited on more than one occasion by British intelligence agents. In the documents found in Moussa Koussa’s office in Sept 2011, MI6’s Sir Mark Allen stressed his personal role in the operation, saying that while “I know I did not pay for the air cargo,”—ie, that the United States actually flew the couple to Libya—"the intelligence on [Mr Belhadj] was British.”
Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar previously offered to settle the case for £3, an admission of liability, and an apology. A Metropolitan Police investigation into the British role in the kidnap continues.
Cori Crider, a Director at Reprieve and the family’s US lawyer, said: “The government so fears this case going to trial that they have stalled for years by throwing up a parade of scarecrows – claiming, for example, that the United States would be angered if Mr and Mrs Belhaj had their day in Court in Britain. The Court was right: embarrassment is no reason to throw torture victims out of court. The government’s dubious and wasteful delay tactics in this case need to end. Enough is enough.”
Abdul-Hakim Belhaj said: “My wife and I are gratified by the judges’ decision to give us our day in court. Our part of the ‘deal in the desert’ – the kidnap, the secret CIA jail, the torture chamber in Tripoli – is as fresh and as painful for us as if it happened yesterday. We never dreamed Britain would have conspired in such a thing until we saw the proof with our own eyes, right there in Moussa Koussa’s dusty binders. There is only one way put our story to rest: justice. We look forward to a full public trial and pray the truth will finally come out.”
Sapna Malik from law firm Leigh Day, who represented Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar in the Court of Appeal, said: “The Court of Appeal has rightly recognised that the gravity of the allegations raised by our clients makes it all the more compelling for the English courts to get on and deal with their case and to reject outright the attempts by Jack Straw, Mark Allen and the government defendants to shield their conduct from judicial scrutiny. Our clients are now a significant step closer to seeing justice done in their case.”
Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay.