Justice yet to be delivered in Iraq

As the world continues to debate the legitimacy of the war on Iraq and its alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction, little attention is given to the human rights tragedy that has slowly been unfolding there.

    Unofficial estimates have put the toll for civilians who have died since the war started last March at 10,000. Most of the time, the deaths go unreported due to a lack of interest.

    Hundreds of those people were killed by US and UK forces during the war. Others died due to the use of excessive force by the coalition forces, or during violent house searches that have led many times to killing or injuries, damage to property and the looting of money and goods.

    Unexploded bomblets from cluster bombs have also killed many, while several people have died in disputed circumstances.

    Increased attacks

    Since May 2003, there has been an increase in the incidence of targeted and indiscriminate attacks carried out by armed groups opposed to the occupation.

    These groups continue to carry out bomb attacks mostly killing civilians, Iraqi police and aid workers, including the staff of international humanitarian organisations.

    In southern Iraq, for example, Christians, Sabeans and some Sunni Muslims have been targeted. Former members of the Baath party police and security officials are equally a focus for "revenge" killings.

    In other areas, those seen as collaborating with the occupying forces, as well as politicians and religious leaders, increasingly fall victim to such attacks.

    Prisoners' plight

    More than 8000 detainees, including women and teenagers, are held without charge or trial and without access to lawyers and sometimes even relatives.

    These detainees have been arrested in clashes with coalition forces; during house searches; on suspicion of belonging to the Baath party or previous security force agencies; for being a relative of a former official; or because of alleged involvement as scientists in Iraq's weapons programme.

    An unknown number of detainees have died in detention. Amnesty International has documented allegations of physical and psychological torture or ill-treatment of detainees by coalition forces. Many times, circumstances suggested that torture had been used.

    Prolonged incommunicado detention, throughout which a detainee does not have access to lawyers and families, seems to be the norm. No thorough and independent investigations are known to have been carried out into any of these allegations.

    On several occasions, Iraqi civilians have been shot dead when lethal force should have been avoided. Houses and plantations have been deliberately destroyed -apparently as a form of collective punishment in retaliation for attacks by armed groups against coalition forces.

    Victimised women

    Women, who form the majority of the population in Iraq, continue to be the unacknowledged victims of this war. They are the victims of abuses by criminal gangs and other armed groups.

    Iraqi women: unacknowledged 

    victims of the occupation

    Many are believed to be detained by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), some solely for being related to former government or Baath party officials.

    Amnesty continues to receive reports of kidnapping, rape and murder. Domestic violence has also increased. There has been a rise in the number of radical Islamist groups, many of whom have issued threats against women not observing the Islamic dress code or against female human rights activists.

    Iraqi women have already suffered the impact of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the 1991 Gulf war, 12 years of crippling UN sanctions and the 2003 war. It would be a further abuse if they were to be excluded from the political process.

    Pressure is needed from those with influence on Iraqi political leaders to ensure that women are fully consulted and given a central role in any future Iraqi administration, judiciary and society.

    The international community should support the future role of women in Iraq and stop human rights abuses against them. One way of doing so is to support emerging women's NGOs in Iraq.

    Amnesty's concerns

    The legacy of past human rights violations and the fate of tens of thousands remain unknown. Amnesty is concerned at the apparent lack of a comprehensive programme to deal with these and other serious violations of human rights committed in the past.

    So far, the CPA has failed to live up to its responsibilities as an occupying power under international law, including its duty to restore law and maintain public order and safety and to provide essential services.

    It is also the duty of occupying powers to protect the civilian population and bring to justice those deliberately or indiscriminately targeting civilians.

    The Iraqis who suffered decades of multiple human rights violations under the former government of Saddam Hussein during the two Gulf wars and during the most recent war need justice.

    It is imperative for the CPA, the Iraqi Governing Council and for any transitional or future authority to see that justice is delivered.

    Nicole Choueiry is the Middle East press officer at Amnesty International

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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