GENEVA (IPS) - A new report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights concludes
that "grave violations" – even potential war crimes – have occurred since the
U.S.-led forces have occupied Iraq, leaving "a stain upon the effort to bring
freedom" to that country.
The acting high commissioner, Bertrand Ramcharan, issued a call Friday for
establishing mechanisms to prevent a repeat of such abuses and to protect Iraqi
"It is crucial that protection arrangements be strengthened as a matter of
the utmost urgency. This concerns oversight of the military forces and the building
up of the protection institutions of the new Iraq," says the report.
Iraq has been under military occupation for more than a year. In March 2003,
the United States and Britain led an invasion of that country, without obtaining
UN approval though backed by some other governments. Their declared motive was
to find the weapons of mass destruction they claimed the Saddam Hussein regime
With Saddam overthrown and now in custody, and the alleged weapons laboratories
yet to be found, the occupying forces are the target of an increasingly heated
popular resistance, in the context of images made public since late April of
torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners in prisons under "coalition" command.
Ramcharan presented his report Friday to Australian Ambassador Mike Smith,
chairman of this year's sessions of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which
met for six weeks in March and April.
When the sessions concluded on April 23, Ramcharan had said he was "perplexed"
by the silence of the UN's highest authority on human rights in regards to the
situation in Iraq.
The Commission, under pressure from the United States, according to what European
diplomats said unofficially, interrupted the mandate of its special rapporteur
who had been entrusted since 1991 to monitor respect for human rights in Iraq.
Ramcharan submitted the report to the Commission's 53 member states, which
together or individually could request an urgent special session to discuss
the matter. If no state expresses interest in studying the Iraq situation, however,
the report will be left until next year's sessions of the Commission on Human
Diplomatic sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it is unlikely
that members of the Commission would decide to push for a political discussion
on the hottest issue in today's international arena.
Cuba experienced that climate of cautious disinterest during this year's sessions
when it unsuccessfully sought to put on the agenda a discussion of the prison
conditions at the U.S. naval base of Guantánamo where alleged members of the
Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda have been held for more than two years.
José Díaz, spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
(OHCHR), denied Wednesday that the report had been modified under pressure from
the members of the occupying forces of Iraq. "There has been no change in the
formulation of the text," he said.
Ramcharan's report was sent Wednesday to the U.S. and British governments.
The observations of both and of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) are
included as annexes to the UN text.
The interim high commissioner's report recognises that from the human rights
perspective there has been an improvement since the U.S.- and British-led coalition
took control of Iraq.
"The government of president Saddam Hussein was a brutal, murderous, torturing
gang that preyed on its own people," states the text.
Among the advances noted by UN officials is the internal debate taking place
about a new constitutional architecture for Iraq that respects international
human rights law.
The document also outlines the creation of an Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights,
broader participation of women in public life, and greater freedoms of expression
and of opinion.
But: " Notwithstanding these efforts it is now a matter of public knowledge
that detainees have been ill-treated and degraded and, before the submissions
received from the CPA and from the governments of the United States and the
United Kingdom (Annexes I to III), it was unclear what protection arrangements
existed in Iraq since the fall of the previous administration."
The document goes so far to state that some of the abuse "might be designated
as war crimes by a competent tribunal."
"Willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, if committed against detainees
protected by international humanitarian law constitute a grave breach under
the Geneva Conventions and therefore of international humanitarian law."
The report mentions that "some 10,000 or more" people have been taken into
custody in Iraq, and that there are reports that as many as 10,000 Iraqi civilians
have been killed since April 2003. Around a thousand coalition forces and 200
coalition civilians have died since then.
The document also takes up the matter of the private security companies hired
by the coalition forces. Estimates cited in the text put the number of private
security personnel – often referred to as mercenaries – at 20,000.
The OHCHR team conducted interviews of representatives of independent Iraqi
organizations in Amman, Jordan, who "voiced their distress about the protection
of civilians by coalition forces."
The interviewees said the occupying forces had gone too far in their treatment
of Iraqi civilians, and gave examples of incidents of this type, included in
"It should be noted that reprisals, or breaching the laws of war as a reply
to a breach by the enemy forces, are strictly prohibited, in particular against
civilians, protected objects and the environment. Collective punishments are
prohibited," says the text.
The testimonies obtained by the OHCHR team also mentioned arbitrary arrest,
violent and armed break-ins of homes and, "in some cases, money or jewelry found
during the raid (was) taken by soldiers and not returned."
And the report finally addresses the most publicized episode: the physical
and psychological abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, outside of
Baghdad. Photos of such incidents were first broadcast Apr. 28 by the U.S. television
In its conclusions, the document states that "the treatment of Iraqi prisoners
was, as recognized by coalition leaders at the highest levels, a stain upon
the effort to bring freedom to Iraq."
The investigation commissioned by Ramcharan concludes that the occupying authorities
"should arrange for regular inspections of all places of detention and also
appoint immediately an international ombudsman or commissioner to monitor respect
for human rights in Iraq."
Ramcharan is acting as high commissioner because his predecessor, Brazil's
Sergio Vieira de Mello, was killed alongside other staff in a terrorist bombing
on Aug. 19, 2003 at the UN headquarters in Baghdad. He was serving as the UN
secretary-general's special representative in Iraq.
The jurist, from Guyana, will leave the post at the end of June to return to
academia in the United States, though the word in humanitarian circles is that
UN chief Kofi Annan will turn to him for efforts aimed at preventing genocide.
The new high commissioner, Canadian magistrate Louise Arbour, will assume the
high commissioner post on July 1.
(Inter Press Service)