Relatives of Malaysian rubber plantation workers killed by British troops more than 60 years ago have taken their long-running quest for an official investigation to the UK’s highest court.
They want a independent inquiry into the shootings at Batang Kali, Malaya, in December 1948.
Supreme Court justices in London were told by their QC that the “failure and refusal” of the Foreign and Defence Secretaries to “take action to inquire further into the Batang Kali massacre are unlawful”.
Michael Fordham told the panel of five of judges, headed by the court’s president Lord Neuberger: “The Batang Kali massacre was and remains the responsibility of the United Kingdom.”
Lawyers say the case also has “huge ramifications” for Northern Ireland in cases of alleged killings by state forces.
The latest proceedings follow a ruling by the Court of Appeal last year dismissing a challenge by the families.
They originally suffered a defeat at the High Court in September 2012, when they unsuccessfully tried to overturn the Government decision not to hold an inquiry – two judges concluded then that decisions not to set up an inquiry were “not unreasonable”.
British troops were conducting operations against communist insurgents during the Malayan Emergency when the 24 plantation workers were killed.
The appellants in the case, Chong Nyok Keyu, Loh Ah Choi, Lim Kok and Wooi Kum Thai – two of whom were at Batang Kali as children – are supported by the action group Condemning The Batang Kali Massacre, a campaign in Malaysia that encompasses 568 civil society organisations.
Among those attending the Supreme Court proceedings is 78-year-old Madam Lim Ah Yin, who was aged 11 at the time of the killings.
She said: “I have travelled here to stand before the most senior judges in the UK. I want to let them know the struggle and hardship that my beloved mother suffered after the death of my dad during the massacre.”
The families’ solicitor John Halford said: “Plainly the bullets that killed half the inhabitants of Batang Kali can never be returned to their barrels and the time has long since passed when any soldier who fired them might be prosecuted.
“But when six of them have confessed to murder, eyewitnesses remain alive and forensic tests can confirm the killings were close-range executions, the law should demand answers from the state.
“After all, those killed were British subjects living in a British Protected State. They and their families have a right to meaningful British justice.”
Relatives say that Article 2 – the right to life – of the European Convention on Human Rights imposes a duty on the UK to commission an independent inquiry despite the killings occurring before the convention was drafted and signed.
The importance of the action to Northern Ireland is marked by the fact that Attorney General John Larkin has submitted written argument to the court on the issue, in an attempt to clarify the extent of the state’s human rights obligations.
The judges will also consider submissions from the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) and Rights Watch UK (RWUK), which represent and advise numerous victims of the Troubles.