UK Supreme Court to hear case of Libyan rendition victims

November 6, 2015

Image of Abdul-hakim Belhaj

The Supreme Court will on Monday consider whether several victims of UK rendition and torture can have their civil cases against the British government heard in court.

Abdelhakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar, who are assisted by human rights charity Reprieve and law firm Leigh Day, are taking legal action against the British government for its role in their rendition and torture. For the past two years, British officials have sought to prevent the cases from being heard in court, but their efforts were defeated in a Court of Appeal hearing in October 2014. The government has since appealed that decision.

Mr Belhaj, a Libyan dissident, was seized in 2004 in a joint MI6-CIA operation along with his wife Ms Boudchar, who was five months pregnant at the time. They were tortured at a CIA black site in Bangkok and ‘rendered’ to Muammar Gaddafi’s prisons in Libya, where Mr Belhaj would spend a further 6 years being tortured.

Following Gaddafi’s fall, documents unearthed from Libyan spy chief Moussa Koussa’s abandoned Tripoli office showed that UK officials conspired with CIA and Libyan intelligence agents to kidnap the couple from exile and render them back to Gaddafi. In a memo to Moussa Koussa, Sir Mark Allen (then head of counterterrorism at MI6) “congratulated” his Libyan counterpart on the arrival of the “air cargo”—a term used to describe Mr Belhaj and his pregnant wife.

The couple have offered to settle the case for an apology, and a token £1 payment from each of Mark Allen, Jack Straw (the former foreign secretary) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The offer remains open. The UK government has argued that the case should never to go trial because it would damage UK-US relations.

The Supreme Court will also consider the case of Yunus Rahmatullah, a Pakistani citizen who was seized and tortured by UK forces in Iraq in 2004 before being handed over to the US military. He was held by the US at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, before being rendered illegally to Bagram prison in Afghanistan. He spent 10 years in Bagram without charge, trial or access to a lawyer before being released to his native Pakistan in 2014. The government has similarly argued that the case should not be heard in UK court.

Reprieve understands that the Metropolitan Police, who have been investigating the British role in the kidnap of the Belhaj family, handed the investigation file to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision last December. The CPS has yet to decide whether any suspect will be charged.

Commenting, Cori Crider, a lawyer for the victims and a director at human rights group Reprieve, said:

“For years the British government has sought to shut the door of the British courts to victims of torture and state-sponsored kidnapping. This is not only a shameful attempt to deny our clients’ simple request for an apology – it’s also a shocking waste of public money and official time. The Belhaj family and Yunus Rahmatullah deserve justice for their abuse at the hands of our government – the sooner British officials accept that, the better.”

Sapna Malik from law firm Leigh Day, the lawyer for Mr Belhaj, said:

“The Court of Appeal last year recognised the gravity of the allegations raised by our clients and we are confident that the Supreme Court will also agree that it is the constitutional duty of the English courts to deal with such important cases despite these attempts to shield the conduct of the security services from judicial scrutiny.”


Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] / +44 (0) 207 553 8140.

Reprieve US, based in New York City, can be contacted on: katherine [dot] oshea [at] / +1 917 855 8064.

2. The cases are expected to be heard over 3 to 4 days, beginning 11am on Monday 9th November, in Courtroom 1 of the Supreme Court.

3. Further background on the Belhaj family’s case can be accessed here, while details of Yunus Rahmatullah’s case are here.