UK escapes trial over Belgrano

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The Independent Online

A bid by the families of sailors killed on the Argentinean battleship the General Belgrano during the Falklands War to sue Britain, has failed because the court of Human Rights has judged that the application has been submitted too late.

A bid by the families of sailors killed on the Argentinean battleship the General Belgrano during the Falklands War to sue Britain, has failed because the court of Human Rights has judged that the application has been submitted too late.

The technicality spares Britain the embarrasment of having to fight against claim that it committed a war crime in the 1982 conflict.

Strasbourg judges declared that the claim by two families that the decision to attack the ship had violated their sons' right to life, protected under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights was inadmissable because too long a period of time had passed since the incident.

The Belgrano was targeted and sunk by the nuclear submarine Conqueror, killing 323 of the 1,093-strong crew.

Prime Minister at the time, Margaret Thatcher, always defended the action and rejected claims that the Belgrano was heading away from a UK-imposed 200-mile military exclusion zone around the Falkland Islands, which Argentina had invaded.

The two lawyers leading the case for the families, Jorge Antonio Olivera and Jorge Appiana, said in their application for a human rights hearing that the UK violated the rules of engagement because the Argentine cruiser never entered the exclusion zone and was on course for the Isla de los Estados, and could not have been deemed to be operating in the war "theatre".

Today's outcome hinged on a requirement of the Human Rights Convention, to which Britain and 40 other nations - but not Argentina - have sign up which states that human rights cases must be brought within six months of a final decision on the case in the domestic courts.

In the Belgrano affair, a court spokeswoman explained later, the relevant date was effectively May 2 1982, the day of the incident itself.

Legal proceedings were held in Argentina and ended on March 14 this year with a ruling from the Argentinian High Court of Justice of the Nation.

But, said the spokeswoman, they did not constitute "domestic remedies" of the matter as they were not domestic remedies within the United Kingdom.

Britain and Argentina restored diplomatic relations in 1990 but Argentina has not surrendered its claim to the Falklands, occupied by Britain nearly 170 years ago.