On July 7 the European Court of Human Rights relied significantly on the work of Philip Alston, John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, in delivering an important and long-awaited judgment. In the case of Al-Skeini and Others v. The United Kingdom, the court’s Grand Chamber (its highest appellate body) held that the rights of the families of four Iraqis killed by British forces had been violated by the U.K.’s failure to independently investigate the deaths. "The principal significance of the judgment," Alston says, "was its definitive rejection of the British Government’s position that human rights law did not apply to the acts of its forces committed overseas, even when it was an occupying force and controlled the security situation, as was the case at the time in Iraq."
In addressing the obligation to investigate killings alleged to be in violation of international standards, the court quoted at length from a March 2006 report authored by Alston, who was then the United Nations’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions. That report stated, in part, that under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “armed conflict and occupation do not discharge the State’s duty to investigate and prosecute human rights abuses. The right to life is non-derogable regardless of circumstance.” While the report acknowledged that events during a conflict may impede an investigation, it stated that “investigations must always be conducted as effectively as possible and never be reduced to mere formality."

Posted July 12, 2011