LONDON (AFP) - Survivors of the 1948 killings of 24 villagers in Malaysia by British troops are to argue for a public inquiry in Britain's highest court on Wednesday, lawyers said.
The legal challenge will be brought by the relatives of those killed in the incident dubbed the "Batang Kali massacre", which occurred during the so-called Malayan Emergency when Commonwealth forces fought a communist-inspired revolt.
The 24 men were killed after British soldiers entered the Batang Kali rubber plantation in the British protectorate, Selangor state, and rounded up and interrogated villagers.
The British government at the time said that the villagers were suspected insurgents and had been trying to escape, but lawyers for the families argue the men may have been deliberately executed.
"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," said Lim Ah Yin, who was 11 years old at the time, in a statement.
"I am 78 years old and I am determined to see the long overdue justice be done for my beloved father."
The case has ramifications for Britain's duty to investigate historical cases involving British troops, including during the Northern Irish conflict popularly known as The Troubles.
Lawyers for the families will argue that Britain has a responsibility to commission an independent inquiry under the European Convention on Human Rights, even though the convention was signed after the incident took place.
Critics however have argued against applying European human rights law to military operations.
In a letter to newspaper The Times this month, seven former chiefs of defence staff criticised "the creeping legal expansion on to the battlefield", arguing that "war demands different norms and laws than the rest of human activity".
Britain's Ministry of Defence has called the killings a "deeply regrettable incident", and previous calls for an inquiry have failed.
Nevertheless, a lawyer for the families said it was not too late for the law to "demand answers from the state".
"Plainly, the bullets that killed half the inhabitants of Batang Kali can never return to their barrels and the time has long since passed when any soldier who fired them might be prosecuted," said John Halford of Bindmans LLP.
"After all, those killed were British subjects living in a British Protected State. They, and their families, have a right to meaningful British justice."