Landmark Decision Upholds Universal Human Rights in Wartime

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  • Inter Press Service

The decision was called a landmark case by international and United Kingdom human rights groups, who stated that the UK had an obligation to investigate the killing of Iraqi civilians by British soldiers in 2003.

'The European Court has spoken clearly - Britain can't claim its soldiers have no human rights duties once they are in another country,' says Clive Baldwin, senior legal advisor to Human Rights Watch (HRW). 'The British government should now finally accept human rights law applies to its acts anywhere in the world and ensure a full and independent inquiry into all these killings.'

The case Al-Skeini and Others v. the United Kingdom concerned the deaths of six Iraqi civilians during the 2003 occupation of Iraqi city Basra by UK forces. Five of the civilians were killed during military operations involving UK soldiers; the sixth was arrested and died while in British custody at a military base.

The families of the victims believed that the UK failed to thoroughly and independently investigate the circumstances of the killings, and complained to the European Court on Human Rights.

The UK in its defence stated to the court that since that the deaths occurred outside of the UK, the requirement to conduct an independent and thorough investigation called for in the European Convention for Human Rights did not apply. The court rejected this argument.

Other institutions lobbied on the victims’ behalf - a group of international and UK-based human rights organisations and professional groups submitted written comments to the court. The group composed of the Bar Human Rights Committee, the European Human Rights Advocacy Centre, Human Rights Watch, INTERIGHTS, the International Federation for Human Rights, the Law Society, and Liberty.

HRW said in a statement that the judgment represents a major reassertion of core values such as the universality of human rights, the rule of law, and the right to life.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service