Inter Press Service
January 13, 2003
By Thalif Deen
As charges of human rights violations by U.S. and other coalition soldiers in Iraq grow, a rising chorus of voices is demanding urgent international action on these alleged abuses.
The criticisms -- mostly against civilian killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions without trial -- have come from human rights activists, U.S. academics and international lawyers and jurists.
"In the United States, there is very little scrutiny of U.S. military actions," As'ad Abukhalil, professor of political science at California State University, told IPS. "Rarely do we hear of investigations of the regular killings of Iraqi civilians," he added.
Abukhalil suggested that U.S. actions in Iraq will prove very damaging on two levels: first, Iraqis are becoming more opposed to the occupation, and more insistent on their freedom from it; second, the Arabic press pays far more attention to U.S. actions and violence in Iraq than the Western press, and that reporting will create more resentment in the Arab world.
"Public opinion in the Arab and Islamic worlds is more hostile to the U.S. than before, despite the silly U.S. propaganda campaign," added Abukhalil, author of 'Bin Laden, Islam and America's New War on Terrorism'.
Last month U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan implicitly criticised the tactics of coalition forces when he said: "We need to act on the recognition that the mounting insecurity problem cannot be solved through military means alone. A political solution is required."
And last year, London-based Human Rights Watch described some of the attacks by U.S. troops on Iraqi civilians as "disproportionate" use of force that merited full compensation for victims.
The tactics adopted by U.S. soldiers against Iraqi civilians were described by Baghdad lawyer Malek Dohan al-Hassan. "All they do is put a bag on their heads, bind their hands behind them with plastic handcuffs and take them away. Families don't know where they go."
The situation has become so bad that the U.S.-endorsed Iraqi minister for human rights, Abdel Baset Turki, flew to Geneva last week to lodge a personal complaint with Acting U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan.
Turki specifically condemned human rights violations by U.S. occupying forces in Iraq and asked Ramcharan to investigate the charges.
Jose Luis-Diaz, spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters the office is unable to make an independent assessment in Iraq because it has no presence in the country.
Since the bombing of the U.N. compound in Baghdad last August, in which 22 people died, the United Nations has withdrawn all its international staff from Iraq.
The OHCHR, Luis-Diaz said, knows the situation in Iraq is "very difficult", and is working with the Iraqi human rights ministry. But the United Nations will have to wait for security conditions to improve before human rights officials can visit Baghdad, he added.
That was called a "copout" by Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy.
"During the past year, the role of the United Nations in Iraq has gone from painfully circumscribed to tragically foreclosed by events," he added.
"Largely due to the Security Council's failure to stand up to Washington last year, the United Nations is now in a state of suspended animation with regard to Iraq," Solomon said.
Last year, Amnesty International (AI) expressed serious concern over photographs in a Norwegian newspaper showing Iraqis stripped naked and humiliated by U.S. soldiers.
"If these pictures are accurate, this is an appalling way to treat prisoners. Such degrading treatment is a clear violation of the responsibility of the occupying powers," AI said.
On Tuesday, Canada's 'Globe and Mail' newspaper reported that the Reuters news agency lodged a complaint with the Pentagon after three of its Iraqi journalists were "bullied" by U.S. soldiers.
A family member of one of them said the men were stripped and forced to stand naked with their hands in the air for hours.
"Let me be blunt here," said Solomon. "The U.S. government is clearly engaging in all sorts of human rights violations in Iraq."
The Bush administration's "fully-justified condemnations of the cruelties of (former Iraqi president) Saddam Hussein's regime are a matched set with Washington's willingness to engage in cruelties when it suits the agenda of the occupiers", he added.
Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of War, told IPS that Iraqis fall into either one of two categories: either they are prisoners of war within the meaning of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949, or else they are civilians and thus qualify as "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.
"But it does not appear that the U.S. government, as the belligerent occupant, is paying strict attention to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, just as it has not done so in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay," Boyle said.
While the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has supervisory jurisdiction for the Geneva Conventions, "certainly the United Nations has in the past and should under the present circumstances insist that the United States, United Kingdom and their so-called allied forces in Iraq adhere to the punctilio of the four Geneva Conventions", he added.
"Failure or refusal by the United States, the United Kingdom and their allied occupying powers in Iraq to obey the conventions creates personal criminal responsibility under international criminal law," said Boyle, author of 'Destroying World Order: U.S.. Imperialism in the Middle East Before and After September 11'.
Responding to widespread protests and complaints, last week the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad released more than 500 Iraqi soldiers, of the roughly 12,800 prisoners in U.S. custody -- virtually all of them held without charges.
CPA head Paul Bremer said the prisoners were released in the interests of "reconciliation".
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