Current state of human rights in Iraq "worry

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 at 12:44PM :

In Reply to: Human rights and Iraq's reconstruction posted by Sadie from ? ( on Tuesday, June 24, 2003 at 12:39PM :

Amnesty head: Current state of human rights in Iraq "worrying"
IRIN, Report

19 June 2003

ANKARA - In an interview with IRIN from her office in London, Irene Zubaida Khan, the head of Amnesty International, described the current state of human rights in Iraq as "worrying", and called on the international community to make human rights the focus of the country's future reconstruction. "To rebuild a country is difficult under any circumstances; to rebuild a country like Iraq will be a real challenge," she said.

QUESTION: How would you describe the current state of human rights in Iraq?

ANSWER: I would describe the situation with regard to human rights in Iraq as very worrying. It's about six or seven weeks after the end of hostilities, but still there seems to be a very unstable, very uncertain situation there. The occupying powers walk in with a swagger, very keen, ready to protect oil wells, but they seem unprepared to protect people.

Q: What in your view are the most pertinent issues at the moment?

A: I think first and foremost is the issue of protecting people, the issue of law and order, and of security that affects just about everyone in the country. And then there are also other issues behind that. Reprisal killings we see taking place increasingly, and political tensions. We are also concerned about the behaviour of the occupying powers and the detention and ill-treatment of prisoners.

And of course, there seems to be very little thought given to reform of the justice system, which is critical both for justice of past abuses, that are coming to light every day, but also under the current situation. And then I think there are some major economic and social needs of people that have to be addressed, in particular the situation in hospitals in Baghdad, health care.

Q: You have some delegates that are on the ground now. What are their preliminary conclusions thus far?

A: They have been very disturbed by the lack of preparedness on the part of the British and American forces to deal with the situation that is unfolding in Iraq. They have been to Basra and to Baghdad and to various towns in between. The story seems to be the same everywhere. People everywhere are talking about insecurity. People are approaching us about past violations, particularly disappearances. Amnesty is well known in Iraq for its past work. People are coming to us asking about family members that have disappeared, and they are generally very uncertain, very concerned about the future.

Q: Are there any particular groups inside Iraq that you feel are more vulnerable to human-rights abuses than others?

A: At the moment, obviously, anyone associated with the past regime - that would include even family members of Ba'thist officials - are subject to reprisals, to attacks. We are also concerned about ethnic groups. Iraq itself has had a history of tensions in one sense, and the thing we see re-emerging is the number of political killings we see taking place in recent times, in Basra and surrounding areas. We are also concerned increasingly about the situation of women. There seems to be a change in the social situation, and we see more and more restrictions being placed on women and girls.

Q: How would you compare the situation of human rights in Iraq with Afghanistan? Are there any similarities?

A: I think the two situations are both different. Afghanistan is not only out of international attention but it's also a country that has very poor infrastructure [and] in the past, very little social development. Iraq, on the other hand, has had a past history of sophisticated systems, of social and economic systems.

In terms of similarities, both, of course, have been subject to international military action. But our concern is that when we look at Afghanistan now at this stage, at international intervention there, we see a very appalling picture of neglect, of broken promises, and a slide back towards a high degree of violence and insecurity. And we would be deeply concerned to see Iraq being treated in a way in which it might become another Afghanistan.

There is still international attention focused on Iraq, but that's going to slip away in time. And the big question then is what steps have the international community taken to ensure that there is a proper reconstruction of Iraq, reconstruction of human rights at its heart. This hasn't happened in the case of Afghanistan, but we hope very much that will not be the case in Iraq.

Q: You mentioned earlier the lack of preparedness on the part of Coalition forces to deal with the situation that is unfolding in Iraq. Could you elaborate on what you mean by this?

A: One of the key concerns that we have is about the use of cluster bombs and the number of unexploded ordnance that are lying around. We have, in fact, been looking at this issue very much, because that's a major threat to the population. We see unexploded ordnance for example lying around schools. We believe that there is responsibility on the occupying powers to clear up the mess they created. There are of course also allegations about the use of disproportionate force in some situations, but that is something that needs to be looked into.

Q: Security remains a pivotal issue in returning stability to the country. What is your assessment of the situation there?

A: Well, grave, very grave. We don't see any systematic approach to reinstating security. We don't see a plan of reconstructing and policing the justice system. What we see are ad hoc arrangements, and there is a real risk that not only will the situation continue as it is but that those who have in the past perpetrated [rights abuses] might slip back into this system.

Q: What role do you see the UN having in the reconstruction of Iraq?

A: I think the UN has a very critical role to play in the area of human rights. As far as other issues are concerned, whether it is economic reconstruction or humanitarian aid, there are many other actors on the international scene. When it comes to human rights, the UN is uniquely placed to gain the credibility of the people of Iraq, and this why we have actually composed two concrete initiatives for the UN.

One is to establish an international commission of inquiry that, together with Iraqi experts, would look at the justice system, and make proposals, as it were, of how it could reform it. The second initiative we would like to see the UN take is to deploy human-rights monitors throughout the country. This past experience in Kosovo, in East Timor, Cambodia, in many other places, shows the importance of monitoring human rights. This would, of course, apply both to the performance of the occupying powers and to other types of violations we see emerging. I think it would form a good basis for addressing the insecurity, lawlessness, and tensions we see now.

Q: In the context of human rights, in addition to monitors, is there anything else that needs to be done and by whom?

A: I mentioned monitors. I mentioned the establishment of a commission to review the justice system. These are two burning and immediate issues. But of course in the longer term, there is the whole issue of building of institutions in Iraq, which are sensitive to human rights, of ensuring proper laws, of proper governance systems, all of which would be very, very open to scrutiny.

Q: What do you view as the biggest challenge ahead?

A: I think the biggest challenge ahead will be to plant the human-rights culture in Iraq. This is a country that has suffered decades under a repressive regime. It is a country that has had institutions, but these institutions were totally subverted by oppression. To rebuild a country is difficult under any circumstances; to rebuild a country like Iraq will be a real challenge. And when I mean rebuild, I mean to reconstruct in the way in which the protection of human rights in Iraq will be foremost.

The UK and the US authorities have used the human-rights situation in Iraq to justify their military intervention. I think the world will be looking to them to see what role they play in helping the Iraqi people reconstruct their own country in a way in which human rights will be ensured.

-- Sadie
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