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UK govt apologises, awards compensation to Libya’s Belhaj

Image of Abdelhakim Belhaj [Tounes24/Facebook]
Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj  [Tounes24/Facebook]

The UK government has issued an “unreserved” apology and awarded £500,000 ($676,000) to Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife, in compensation for the British security services’ involvement in their extraordinary rendition to the regime of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Boudchar, have been battling for compensation from former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw, former head of counter-terrorism at MI6 Sir Mark Allen, as well as the intelligence agency and the Foreign Office themselves, for the past six years, after evidence emerged of the involvement of MI6 officers, alongside the CIA, in their 2004 kidnap in Thailand.

Papers that came to light during the Libyan revolution in 2011 revealed that UK intelligence officials had tipped off the Libyan government as to their location, resulting in in their arrest, torture and Belhaj’s six year imprisonment. Boudchar was four and a half months pregnant when she was abducted and was set free shortly before giving birth.

A statement from British Prime Minister Theresa May released today read: “It is clear that you were both subjected to appalling treatment and that you suffered greatly, not least the affront to the dignity of Mrs Boudchar who was pregnant at the time.”

“Later, during your detention in Libya, we sought information about and from you. We wrongly missed opportunities to alleviate your plight. This should not have happened.”

Read: ICC renews call to arrest Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi

Boudchar who was at parliament with her son to hear the apology, welcomed the verdict: “I thank the British government for its apology and for inviting me and my son to the UK to hear it. I accept the government’s apology.”

Her husband also thanked the prime minister and the attorney general in a letter read in parliament.

“For more than six years I have made clear that I had a single goal in bringing this case: justice. Now, at last, justice has been done,” he concluded.

While Boudchar was awarded half a million pounds in compensation, Belhaj has neither sought, nor received a financial settlement. The couple had previously said they would settle for just £3 ($4), one from each of the defendants, alongside an official apology.

Martha Spurier, director of rights group Liberty, applauded the settlement, but highlighted that many other rendition cases were being ignored.

“David Cameron promised a full judge-led inquiry into our country’s involvement in torture and rendition in 2010 – but it is still yet to materialise. Until torture survivors and the British public know the full extent of the UK’s failings, ministers cannot claim to have learned the lessons to prevent this ever happening again.”

Jack Straw has also welcomed the withdrawal of proceedings against him, reiterating that whilst he had a “limited” recollection of the events, he had always assumed the actions he was approving as foreign secretary were lawful.

Read: UK comes out in support of war-torn Middle East

Following the announcement of the verdict in parliament, British MPs labelled the government’s complicity in the couple’s abduction as “shameful” and “a gross violation of international humanitarian law”.

MPs also sought assurance that such a case would not happen again from attorney general Jeremy Wright, who argued that it was hard to balance the issue of national security and its cooperation with foreign agencies who may use torture. However, he assured parliamentarians that reforms have been enforced, such that the process would seek to always abide by international human rights law

“The best that I think any government can do is to put in place the processes and practices that mean the right values are applied to the judgements that we have to take, including in what are very difficult cases. I think I’ve been clear, I hope I’ve been clear that in this case we didn’t get those judgements right and we must do better in the future.”

Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell also queried whether the UK would send the details of the case to the US government, particularly in light of the fact that Gina Haspell, who was involved in the management of the blacksite in Thailand where Fatima Bouchdar was held and abused, is now being considered for the position of director at the CIA.

The attorney general confirmed that the information would be shared with the UK’s international partners, but not in relation to the appointment of Haspell.

Read: US, Libya sign security cooperation deal

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