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Lawyers for Libyan couple welcome Government apology over illegal rendition

Government issues unreserved apology to Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar

Fatima Boudchar and her son arriving to meet the Attorney General 10 May 2018

10 May 2018

Lawyers for the Libyan politician Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar, victims of unlawful rendition to Libya in March 2004, have welcomed the unreserved apology given to them both by the Attorney General on behalf of the Prime Minister for the UK Government’s role in their ‘detention, rendition and suffering’.

The couple also received the apology by letter from the Prime Minister. 

In a statement to the House of Commons today (10 May 2018), the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC MP unreservedly apologised for the ‘harrowing experiences’ that the couple suffered after they were detained in South East Asia before being rendered to Libya.

In his statement Mr Wright acknowledged that the UK Government had ‘sought information about and from you’ during the time Mr Belhaj was imprisoned and tortured by the Gaddafi regime.

Reacting to the apology Mr Belhaj said: “I welcome and accept the Prime Minister’s apology, and I extend to her and the Attorney General my thanks and sincere goodwill.”

Fatima Boudchar who was at Parliament with her son to hear the apology, said:

“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.

Sapna Malik from law firm Leigh Day who represented Mr Belhaj and Ms Bouchar said:

“Today’s historic occasion is a tribute to the resilience of our clients in their quest for justice. After six long years of litigation, HMG has rightly acknowledged that, even in the fields of counter-terrorism and international relations, there are lines which must not be crossed and which were crossed here, with devastating consequences for my clients.

“Today’s candid apology from the Government helps restore the humanity and dignity so brutally denied to my clients during their ordeal and is warmly welcomed.”

Cori Crider Reprieve Counsel to the family said:

“This is not just Abdul-Hakim and Fatima’s victory.  It is a victory for everyone who opposes injustice, secret detention, and torture.”

In 2004 Mr Belhaj was leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, opposing Colonel Gaddafi when he was first detained then hooded and shackled to the floor of the plane in a stress position, unable to sit or lie during a 17-hour flight back to Libya where he was detained for six years in some of the country’s most brutal jails. Mr Belhaj was eventually released in 2010.

Ms Boudchar was imprisoned in Libya for four months while pregnant. She was released just three weeks before giving birth, by which time her health, and that of her baby, was in a precarious state.

Following the fall of Colonel Gaddafi, documents were discovered in the headquarters of the fallen regime’s intelligence agency.

These included a fax apparently sent from MI6 to the Libyan intelligence services on 1 March 2004, in which MI6 informed the Libyans of the couple’s then whereabouts in Malaysia.

The discovery of the documents led to a long legal battle against the then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the former head of MI6 counter-intelligence Sir Mark Allen who denied any unlawful conduct. 

In January 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the Government’s appeal to have the case against the men and the security services struck out, ruling that the claims must be allowed to proceed in the English courts.

All the claims have now been withdrawn.

In today’s statement in Parliament, the Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC MP said: “On behalf of her Majesty’s Government, I apologise unreservedly. We are profoundly sorry for the ordeal that you both suffered and our role in it”. Before going on to say that the UK Government had learned many lessons from the period.

Full statement from Abdul-Hakim Belhaj:

“I welcome and accept the Prime Minister’s apology, and I extend to her and the Attorney General my thanks and sincere goodwill. 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. Today is a historic day, not just for myself and my wife. We hope our case will serve as a marker for future generations. A great society does not torture; does not help others to torture; and, when it makes mistakes, it accepts them and apologises.  Britain has made a wrong right today, and set an example for other nations to follow.”

Full statement from Fatima Boudchar:

“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. This case has forced me to relive the lowest moments in my life for many years, and at times it has been a real struggle to keep going. But by today’s settlement I look forward to rebuilding my life with dignity and honour, and living free from the weight of these events with my husband and our five beautiful children.”

Full statement from Cori Crider:

“This is not just Abdul-Hakim and Fatima’s victory.  It is a victory for everyone who opposes injustice, secret detention, and torture. We are gratified by today’s apology and respect the sincere spirit in which it was given.  History will judge the CIA’s programme of rendition and torture as a grave mistake and a crime. Today, by apologizing for its part in that dark story, the UK has stood on the right side of that history.”

Full text of the Prime Minister’s Apology, delivered by the Attorney General:

Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar –

The Attorney General and senior UK Government officials have heard directly from you both about your detention, rendition and the harrowing experiences you suffered. Your accounts were moving and what happened to you is deeply troubling. It is clear that you were both subjected to appalling treatment and that you suffered greatly, not least the affront to the dignity of Ms Boudchar, who was pregnant at the time. 

The UK Government believes your accounts. Neither of you should have been treated in this way.

The UK Government’s actions contributed to your detention, rendition and suffering. The UK Government shared information about you with its international partners. We should have done more to reduce the risk that you would be mistreated. We accept this was a failing on our part.

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.
On behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, I apologise unreservedly. We are profoundly sorry for the ordeal that you both suffered and our role in it.

The UK Government has learned many lessons from this period. We should have understood much sooner the unacceptable practices of some of our international partners. And we sincerely regret our failures.  

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