US Asked to Curb Military Excesses in Iraq

UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations has asked the United States to help prevent military excesses by multinational troops and private security firms accused of using indiscriminate force against civilians in Iraq.

"The US government should take steps to ensure that offenses committed in Iraq by all categories of US contractor employees are subject to prosecution under the law," says a new 37-page report released Thursday by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

The study, the eleventh in a quarterly series focusing on human rights in Iraq, urges "that all credible allegations of unlawful killings" by the multinational forces in Iraq be "thoroughly, promptly and impartially investigated."

Further, it asks US authorities to take "appropriate action against military personnel found to have used excessive or indiscriminate force."

"The initiation of investigations into such incidents, as well as their findings, should be made public," the report says.

It also urges the US authorities to investigate recent widespread reports of deadly violence by private security firms, including Blackwater USA, which resulted in the deaths of about 10 civilians.

The company, which has come under fire for its aggressiveness, is under contract to the US State Department.

UNAMI says it shares the views of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) "that private military firms must respect international humanitarian law."

The legal status of thousands of private contractors working in Iraq "remains unclear," according to the UNAMI report.

Although they are not considered employees of the US government, an order issued by the then US Coalition Provisional Authority in 2004 grants them immunity from prosecution within the Iraqi judicial system "with respect to acts performed by them pursuant to the terms and conditions of a contract of any sub-contract thereto."

Still, there are certain categories of contract employees who are subject to US military law under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Asked for comments from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, his spokeswoman Marie Okabe told reporters Thursday that UNAMI urges US authorities to investigate allegations of civilian deaths caused by privately hired contractors and establish effective mechanisms of accountability.

Responding to a question, she said the report, regrettably, does not include the casualty figures UNAMI has normally been reporting, based on official statistics. The government of Iraq, she pointed out, has stopped making such figures available.

Okabe said the United Nations will ask the Iraqi authorities to resume providing information from the Ministry of Health and the Medico-Legal Institute of Baghdad on detailed casualty figures.

In the report, the United Nations also accuses the Iraqi government of a rash of "serious and widespread" human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture of detainees, violations of the rule of law, ineffectiveness of the judiciary and irregularities in trial procedures.

The study says the ongoing violence in Iraq poses "enormous challenges" to the government of Iraq in its efforts to bring under control acts of violence motivated by sectarian considerations and criminal activity.

It also points out there have been 540 death sentences since 2004: 78 in 2004, 107 in 2005, 234 in 2006 and 121 through May 2007. Of these, 107 death sentences have been carried out after being upheld on appeal by the end of April.

According to Amnesty International, Kuwait had the highest number of executions per capita of population, followed by Iran. The other five countries with high rates of executions include China, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and the United States.

While the security situation remains grave, the report urges the Iraqi government to do more to ensure better judicial oversight mechanisms for suspects arrested in the context of the ongoing Baghdad Security Plan.

It also calls on the authorities to immediately address reports of torture in Iraqi government facilities, as well as those of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The ongoing violence in Iraq and prevailing security condition has restricted UNAMI’s ability "to directly assess incidents involving attacks on civilians and others by armed groups and governmental security forces."

As a matter of policy, UNAMI says it does not disclose information given in confidence and does not indicate sources of information unless consent is granted.

Many accounts relating to the human rights situation in Iraq are discounted where UNAMI is unable to verify the information through other sources or where the information is inconsistent with its own assessment of patterns of abuse, the study notes.

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Author: Thalif Deen

Thalif Deen writes for Inter Press Service.