Janice Tibbetts / Vancouver Sun – 2008-07-06 21:42:04
OTTAWA (July 5, 2008) — A Canadian court has sided for the first time with a military deserter who fled to Canada seeking refugee status, ruling Friday that the U.S. soldier witnessed enough human rights abuses during a stint in Iraq that he could qualify for asylum.
The decision also marked the first time that the Federal Court, which has heard a handful of cases involving deserters, concluded that military action against civilians in Iraq violates the 1949 Geneva Convention, an international prohibition against humiliating and degrading treatment.
Federal Court Justice Richard Barnes ordered the Immigration and Refugee Board to reconsider the failed refugee claim of Joshua Key, a soldier who entered Canada with his wife, Brandi, and their small children in March 2005.
Key, 30, an army private, deserted during a two-week break from serving as a combat engineer in Iraq, where he spent eight months in 2003 and says he was involved in military-condoned home invasions against civilians.
“This is a real breakthrough,” said Lee Zaslofsky of the Toronto-based War Resisters Support Campaign. “What excites us is this may also apply to other war resisters who took part in Iraq.”
Barnes ruled that the board too narrowly interpreted refugee eligibility by concluding only soldiers who seek protection from committing war crimes need apply.
“Officially condoned military misconduct falling well short of a war crime may support a claim to refugee protection,” said the ruling.
Barnes said it “cannot be seriously challenged” that some of the conduct in which Keys participated violated the Geneva Convention.
“This included the responsibility for conducting nighttime raids of private Iraqi homes in search of weapons,” said the decision.
“Pte. Key’s role in this was to blow open the doors with explosives and then to assist in both securing the premises and detaining the adult male occupants. Mr. Key alleged that during these searches he witnessed several instances of unjustified abuse, unwarranted detention, humiliation and looting by fellow soldiers.”
The Geneva Convention prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity” and “unlawful confinement.”
Canwest News Service
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