(London) - A European Court of Human Rights ruling on July 7, 2011, in a case involving the killings of Iraqi civilians by UK soldiers, is a landmark judgment in the universal application of human rights, seven UK and international human rights groups and professional bodies, including Human Rights Watch said today.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, in the case of Al-Skeini and Others v. the United Kingdom, found that the UK's human rights obligations apply to its acts in Iraq, and that the UK had violated the European Convention on Human Rights in the failure to adequately investigate the killings of five Iraqis by its forces there.

"The European Court has spoken clearly - Britain can't claim its soldiers have no human rights duties once they are in another country." said Clive Baldwin, senior legal advisor to Human Rights Watch. "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 concerned the deaths of six Iraqi civilians in Basra in 2003 where the UK was an occupying power. Five of them, Hazim Jum'aa Gatteh Al-Skeini, Muhammad Abdul Ridha Salim, Hannan Mahaibas Sadde Shmailawi, Waleed Sayay Muzban, and Raid Hadi Sabir Al-Musawi were killed during military operations involving British soldiers. The sixth, Baha Mousa, was arrested and died at the hands of British troops in a military base. The families of the victims complained to the Strasbourg court that the UK authorities had refused to conduct an independent and thorough investigation into the circumstances of the killings.

The Court rejected the arguments put forward by the UK government, that as the deaths occurred outside UK territory, the requirement under the European Convention for Human Rights to conduct an independent and thorough investigation did not apply.

A coalition of international and UK human rights organizations and professional bodies submitted written comments to the Court, made up 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. The Court has rejected unconscionable double standards governing the conduct of states, depending on whether their agents act within or outside that state's territory. 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.