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Tristan Hallam on Libya an International claim for damages

By Principal Lawyer, Occupiers and Public Liability

The news at the moment is all centred on Libya. Rightly so since a dictatorship which condoned and actively supported terrorism over the years is now being toppled and quite rightly toppled by its own people with limited although obviously very helpful, intervention from other parties. As in all cases where a dictatorship is toppled and Libya is no different, atrocities are finally unveiled and one of which was the rendition and torture of the current Libyan Rebel Commander in charge of Tripoli, Abdel Hakim Belhadj. I am sure it comes as no surprise that allegations have been raised that Western Governments have been involved in collusion with the Libyan Government prior to the Government being overthrown. What is however inappropriate in any civilised society is the torture of those individuals, not by the State who is looking to extract information which is in itself abhorrent, but by another State asking for a third Country, this case Libya (although other Countries and not surprisingly involving dictatorships, have also been involved in rendition) ‘soften up’ suspects so they can be later interrogated. I appreciate that we live in dangerous times and many will say that in such times difficult measures have to be put in place. I find it very difficult to accept that generally, the end justifies the means. I read in any event in the newspapers, that Mr Belhadj is considering suing both the British and US governments. He will no doubt be seeking damages for the 7 years of imprisonment and torture that he had to endure whilst in the hands of the former Libyan Government. Whether he succeeds in obtaining damages or compensation is another matter. I wrote recently on those relations and survivors of the Srebrenica massacre and how damages are being paid by the Dutch Courts. I see no reason why a similar situation should not apply here. The use of torture is against International Law. If it can therefore be shown that Security Services colluded in the acts of torture, the appropriate Government will be potentially in breach of International Law. What is more difficult to establish is whether those Governments simply turned a blind eye rather than actively participated. However, escaping this argument is not so easy. If a Government colludes in rendition, it must be said to have collided with intended torture. This is what rendition is all about since the purpose of rendition is to extract a person from a Country, to take them to another Country where the State actively uses torture against its opponents, to therefore apply the same techniques to the suspect and to then interrogate them at a later stage, once they have been kept and tortured for an appropriate length of time. Any suggestion therefore that the Governments named above did not know what was happening to Mr Belhadj (if it can establish that the Government actively supported rendition), is going to be a difficult allegation to dispute. Tristan Hallam is a partner in Personal Injury in the London office of Russell Jones & Walker.If you or a member of your family has suffered an accident or injury call our expert personal injury solicitors on 0800 916 9046, fill in our short online claim form or email enquiries@slatergordon.co.uk and one of our specialist personal injury team will review your compensation claim for free.

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