To what extent should human rights laws apply to British forces personnel when deployed on operations overseas?
Some commentators would say 'none'. The question cropped up again in the inquest into the July 2010 deaths of Maj James Bowman, Lt Neal Turkington and Cpl Arjun Purja Pun at a patrol base in Helmand, in an attack by a rogue member of the Afghan National Army.
The inquest in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, has concluded that there was no evidence of failure to properly protect the men.
Wiltshire coroner David Ridley said: "I am satisfied that all three were killed as a result of the actions of the member of the Afghan National Army (ANA)."
Significantly, Mr Ridley accepted that the Army had a duty to protect those on the base under the European Convention for Human Rights. He also said he saw no evidence it had failed to do so.
"One must guard against hindsight," he said.
"In this case the possibility of an ANA attack was known but it was never perceived at any level, either by those based at [the patrol base] or higher up, as a real risk, an actual risk."
Article 2 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) imposes on the state the duty to refrain from unlawfull deprivation of life, the duty to investigate suspicious deaths; and in certain circumstances, a positive obligation to take steps to prevent avoidable foreseeable losses of life.
An unusual aspect of the inquest was that the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission had assisted the inquest in the capacity of an interested party in the inquest into the death of Lieutenant Neal Turkington, from Portadown.
After the inquest, the officer's father, Mr Ivor Turkington, said he was pleased at the judge's acknowledgement of the Army's duties in relation to the human rights of personnel on bases outside the UK.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission's director Virginia McVea said the ruling would have a "major impact" on future inquests.
"It ensures a fuller investigation where there is a suggestion of systemic failures to protect soldiers' lives," she said.
- Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission press release 26.07.11 - Inquest into the death of Lieutenant Turkington
- BBC News 28.07.11 - Rogue Afghan attack was 'unlawful killing'
- Mirror 16.07.10 - The pride of the Gurkhas: Last pictures of three heroes killed by rebel Afghan soldier
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