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Ulster 'link' to 1948 Malaya case


Three relatives of the victims of the Batang Kali killings outside the Royal Courts of Justice in 2012

Three relatives of the victims of the Batang Kali killings outside the Royal Courts of Justice in 2012

Three relatives of the victims of the Batang Kali killings outside the Royal Courts of Justice in 2012

Victims campaigners in Northern Ireland have been granted permission to appear before a potentially landmark Supreme Court case on the shooting dead of 24 unarmed Malaysians by British soldiers almost 70 years ago.

Relatives of the rubber plantation workers killed at Batang Kali in colonial-era Malaya in 1948 are testing whether the UK's human rights obligations to investigate controversial deaths can apply retrospectively to events that happened before the passing of the 1998 Human Rights Act.

The outcome could have huge ramifications on how legacy issues are dealt with in Northern Ireland. If the court rules in favour of the Batang Kali families, it could essentially establish an obligation on the state to conduct fresh human rights-compliant investigations into a series of contentious deaths during the Troubles.

Two advocacy groups will outline submissions to the Supreme Court judges at next month's high-profile hearing arguing for retrospective compliance.

The Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) and Rights Watch UK (RWUK), which represent and advise numerous victims of the conflict, insist there are strong legal parallels between the deaths at Batang Kali and killings in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin will also make submissions to the court in an attempt to clarify the extent of the state's human rights obligations.

Last year the Court of Appeal rejected a call by the Batang Kali families for an immediate inquiry into the killing of their loved ones. The Appeal Court judges said the case first needed to be tested in the Supreme Court to establish whether the Human Rights Act was applicable to historic events that pre-dated it becoming law. The HRA gives legal effect in the UK to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Batang Kali killings and the subsequent British investigation of them have long been mired in controversy, with persistent claims of a cover-up. The incident unfolded as British soldiers conducted a counter-insurgency operation against Chinese Malayan communists during the so-called Malayan Emergency.

The soldiers involved were exonerated by the British authorities, which said the victims were trying to escape detention when they were killed. This account has been vehemently rejected by relatives, who insist their loved ones were executed in cold blood.

The findings of the original investigation were further undermined in the decades after the incident when some of the Scots Guards involved made statements admitting the shootings were unjustified.

Representatives from the Pat Finucane Centre and Rights Watch UK will appear at the Supreme Court in London at the end of April to make submissions outlining the relevance and significance of human rights legislation to dealing with the past in Northern Ireland.

Yasmine Ahmed, director of Rights Watch UK, stressed the significance of the case.

"The outcome of this case will have considerable implications in Northern Ireland, where many of the deaths that occurred during the Troubles happened before the enactment of the Human Rights Act in 1998," she said.

Sara Duddy, caseworker with the Pat Finucane Centre, said: "Dealing with the past, whether through inquests or investigations, continues to be a battleground where the UK government seeks to deny families the right to truth. The Batang Kali massacre is proof, if proof were needed, that the past will always come back to haunt us if it isn't dealt with."

Darragh Mackin, solicitor for KRW Law in Belfast, which represents both the PFC and RWUK, added: "This is a hugely significant case for families and victims, who continue in their efforts to bring about effective investigations into legacy-related deaths, and to secure justice and accountability.

"The Batang Kali Massacre is a self-evident example as to why legacy-related cases in this jurisdiction require an investigation which is effective, and in particular secures the right to the truth."

A spokesman for Mr Larkin said: "This case presents an important opportunity to clarify the nature of obligations under Article 2 of the ECHR (the right to life)."