The British government will argue at the European court of human rights in Strasbourg this week that it should not be held accountable for human rights breaches by British troops in the course of military operations abroad.
The grand chamber of 17 Strasbourg judges will decide whether the European convention on human rights applies to the military operations of European troops abroad.
Britain and five other European countries have intervened in a case brought against France for failing to safeguard the lives of two Kosovan boys by ensuring that cluster bombs dropped by NATO forces were cleared up. One boy was killed and his brother was blinded and disfigured.
The seven governments argue that no international operations of this kind could ever be mounted in the future if the participating states were told that they would be held accountable before the European court for any violations of human rights they committed in the course of their military operations.
The case comes amid growing pressure for an international ban on cluster bombs, which disperse numbers of bomblets, many of which initially fail to explode and create a lethal trap for the unwary.
A new international treaty on explosive remnants of war, including cluster bombs and landmines, will require countries to clear up unexploded bombs and mines in future. Cluster bombs are thought to have killed about 10,000 people, most of them children.
The Strasbourg case is being brought on behalf of Gadaf Behrami and his brother, Bekir, who were playing with other boys in the hills in the Sipolje area of Mitrovica, Kosovo, in March 2000 when they came across a number of undetonated cluster bombs left behind after the NATO bombardment in 1999.
The Behrami family had been in Switzerland for nine years as refugees and had returned to Kosovo only the year before, thinking their homeland was safe.
The case, which will be heard tomorrow in Strasbourg, is seen as so important that it will go before the grand chamber instead of the usual court of nine judges.
It will be heard with a second case, brought against France and Norway by an Albanian Kosovan held in detention by KFOR commanders without trial.