Public Interest Lawyers condemns the alleged mutilation of a deceased Taliban fighter currently being investigated by the Royal Military Police. The Daily Mail and others have reported that a soldier from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders cut off the fingers from dead Taliban fighters during his first tour of duty in Helmand province between September 2010 and April this year. It is alleged that the soldier took the fingers as “souvenirs”.1
The prohibition against mutilating dead bodies was first codified as a crime of international law in the 1907 Hague Convention, and has formed an important part of customary international law for much longer. It is now contained within the Geneva Conventions, and is a war crime under the Statute of the International Criminal Court. Mutilating the dead is also clearly prohibited by the UK’s own Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict.2
As news sources have noted, these allegations come a month after Public Interest Lawyers’ victory in the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Al-Skeini, which held that human rights jurisdiction extends to all foreign territory controlled by British forces, in that case South East Iraq during 2003-2004. This resulted in the ordering of an independent investigation into the deaths of a number of Iraqi civilians in Basra. The European Convention also operates to prohibit the mutilation of deceased persons.
Soldiers from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders are already the focus of the Al-Sweady Public Inquiry’s investigations into allegations that British soldiers abused and killed up to 20 Iraqi detainees in May 2004. This includes allegations that the dead bodies received from the British base, Camp Abu Naji, on 15 May 2004 had been mutilated, which were made immediately and voiceferously by relatives at the time. Public Interest Lawyers act for the Iraqi Complainants before that Inquiry.
Speaking today, Daniel Carey, a solicitor at Public Interest Lawyers, said:
“Unfortunately, these are not the first allegations of mutilation of dead bodies that British soldiers have faced. The Al-Sweady Public Inquiry is looking at similar allegations in Iraq which were made in May 2004 and which were not adequately investigated by the military police at the time. Clearly questions need to be answered about the extent of this practice.”
2 See e.g. http://www.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_rul_rule113
In the case of Evans, Public Interest Lawyers successfully challenged the UK’s policy of handing-over Afghan prisoners to the Afghan Secret Police (the “NDS”) in 2009, resulting in greater safeguards against torture being put in place.