Rights Group Slams US Actions in Iraq

One year after the U.S.-led attack on Iraq, civilians are seeing some improvements in human rights but violence is endemic and many people live in fear for their safety, says a report by Amnesty International (AI).

Based on a series of visits to Iraq over the past year, as well as media accounts, the report, “Iraq: One Year On,” concludes that coalition forces have fallen far short of their promise to improve human rights for all Iraqis.

“Violence is endemic, whether in the form of attacks by armed groups or abuses by the occupying forces,” according to the 12-page report. “Millions of people have suffered the consequences of destroyed or looted infrastructure, mass unemployment and uncertainty about their future.”

“For the next year to be better than the last, the occupying forces, Iraqi political and religious leaders and the international community must make a real commitment to protecting and promoting human rights in Iraq,” added the London-based group.

There have been a number of welcome developments in the country, notably concerning freedom of expression, association and assembly, the report stressed.

In addition, dozens of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including women’s rights groups, have been established, while more than 80 daily and weekly newspapers are published, and scores of political parties and religious organisations have emerged.

But a year after the war began, Iraqi civilians are still dying every day. More than 10,000 are estimated to have been killed as a direct result of the military intervention, either during the war or during the occupation, according to Amnesty, which noted that U.S. authorities have said they lack the capacity to track civilian casualties.

The report, which echoes many of the concerns AI and New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) have raised over the past year, comes amid efforts by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to justify the war, particularly in the absence of evidence that supports its pre-war claims that Baghdad’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programmes and ties to al-Qaeda terrorists represented an intolerable threat to U.S. national security.

As a result, the administration has attempted to shine a bright spotlight on the human rights abuses and atrocities committed by the regime of ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who was captured by U.S. forces last December and is being held pending a likely trial before an Iraqi court on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Coalition forces have uncovered scores of mass graves in many parts of Iraq since the invasion, and helped the painstaking process of identifying the remains of those who were buried there.

While welcoming Hussein’s ouster, human rights groups, notably HRW, have said the administration’s attempt to justify the war on humanitarian grounds will not wash, particularly because Hussein was neither engaged in nor planning mass killings when the conflict began and the vast majority of abuses committed under his rule took place long before the war, at a time when Washington and other western capitals chose to ignore them.

“The Bush administration cannot justify the war in Iraq as a humanitarian intervention,” said HRW Director Kenneth Roth earlier this year. “Such interventions should be reserved for stopping an imminent or ongoing slaughter. They shouldn’t be used belatedly to address atrocities that were ignored in the past.”

Amnesty has not commented directly on the question but has strongly criticized various aspects of the U.S.-led war and occupation.

The new report addresses, among other things, the killings of civilians by coalition forces and other armed individuals, the administration of justice under the occupation, incommunicado and unlawful detentions by occupation and local Iraqi forces; reports of torture and other forms of ill-treatment; house demolitions and searches; and violence against women.

It says scores of civilians have been killed apparently as a result of excessive use of force by U.S. troops under disputed circumstances. In several cases, US soldiers shot and killed Iraqi demonstrators.

In November, adds the report, the US military said it had paid out 1.5 million dollars to Iraqi civilians to settle claims by victims or their relatives for personal injury, death or damage to property, and that more than 10,000 claims have been filed.

But beyond filing claims, Iraqis victims and their families have had little recourse in gaining justice, as no US soldier has yet been prosecuted for illegally killing an Iraqi civilian. Indeed, no independent investigation, as has been frequently demanded by Amnesty and other groups, of such a case has been carried out to date.

Under an order by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), Iraqi courts are barred from hearing cases against any US or coalition soldier or official in Iraq, with the result that US troops are operating with total impunity, Amnesty said.

Armed groups, which have become a growing feature of life in Iraq since the occupation began, continue to pose a major threat to the security of Iraqi civilians, it adds.

Many such attacks have targeted the US or coalition military, Iraqi security personnel and police stations, religious leaders and buildings, media, NGOs and U.N. agencies, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

Attacks have increasingly focused on “soft targets,” such as the hotels in Baghdad and Basra that were destroyed by car bombs Wednesday and Thursday, killing at least 11 people.

The report also assailed the CPA’s indefinite detention without charge of 8,500–15,000 prisoners, most of who are suspected of involvement in anti-coalition activities. Family members often have no way of finding out if their relatives have been arrested or where they are being held, and conditions in detention centers are reported to be harsh.

Many released detainees have alleged they were tortured or otherwise ill treated by US and British troops during interrogation. Methods reported to Amnesty include beatings, prolonged sleep deprivation, restraint in painful positions, hooding and exposure to bright lights and loud music.

None of these allegations have been adequately investigated, says the report.

The continued breakdown of law and order also continues to be a major concern in many parts of the country, as innocent Iraqis have suffered lootings, revenge killings, kidnappings and other violence, particularly against women.

In some parts of the country, Islamist groups have threatened girls and women for not wearing the hijab, while activists who have been campaigning to protect women’s rights have also been threatened.

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.