The Iraq War and Human Rights



In order to justify the attack on Iraq - which very likely constitutes a major violation of international law - the Bush jr administration has shifted its reasoning yet again. As in Afghanistan, they have now discovered human rights. Human rights and democracy always sell well. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been more coherent, he has brought up how terrible Saddam Hussein’s regime is for a long time. In fact, he - and The Economist - has acted as if human rights were actually a British invention.

Obviously, we all know how much we’d like to have people like Saddam Hussein removed from power so how could we be against that war? But as usual, things are not that easy. First of all, Bush jr.’s discovery of human rights simply seems to be just another PR stunt. He has come up with all kinds of reasons for his war and most people seem to believe that he doesn’t even care too much about the truth of his claims. I’m not going into that, it’s just too obvious. Second, applying human rights this selectively, namely when you need them to wage war, is, depending on how you want to see it, either ludicrous or cynical. The US didn’t seem to have any problems with Saddam Hussein’s human rights record when he was fighting his war against Iran.

Which brings us to an interesting exercise. For the US, today’s “ally” is tomorrow’s mortal enemy. That seems to be a fairly justified assessment if you look at recent history. So let’s look at the state of democracy and human rights in some of those countries which joined the “Coalition of the Willing”.

BTW, all information on human rights are taken from Amnesty International’s latest year book. I’m quoting from the abstracts for each country.

Afghanistan - There’s a lot to say about Afghanistan but I don’t even want to open that can of worms. I’ve read lots and lots of reports according to which the situation of women hasn’t improved after the overthrow of the Taliban. Also, I’m still missing those democratic elections we got promised. Stay tuned…

Azerbaijan - “At least two men died in detention, allegedly as a result of torture and ill- treatment. Demonstrators and political activists were detained for short periods of time, and some reportedly ill-treated in detention. As respect for media freedoms generally decreased, criminal defamation legislation was used to stifle apparently legitimate criticism of public officials.” (link) Now that sounds very very familiar, doesn’t it? Sounds like a good ally.

Bulgaria - “Reports of ill-treatment and torture by law enforcement officials were widespread. Very few of the suspected perpetrators were brought to justice. Many of the victims, some of whom were minors, were Roma. Law enforcement officials continued to use firearms in circumstances prohibited by international standards, resulting in deaths and injuries. Conditions in many institutions for adults with mental disabilities amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Restrictions on the right to freedom of expression continued to be imposed.” (link) ditto!

Colombia - “Systematic and gross abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law persisted. Paramilitary groups acting with the active or tacit support of the security forces were responsible for the vast majority of extrajudicial executions and ”disappearances”; many of their victims were tortured before being killed. Armed opposition groups were responsible for violations of international humanitarian law, including arbitrary or deliberate killings. More than 300 people ”disappeared” and more than 4,000 civilians were killed outside of combat for political motives by the armed groups. Over 1,700 people were kidnapped by armed opposition groups and paramilitary forces. All parties to the conflict were responsible for the forced displacement of large numbers of civilians. The security situation of those living in conflict zones, particularly human rights defenders, trade unionists, judicial officials, journalists, members of Afro- Colombian and indigenous communities and peasant farmers, continued to worsen. Evidence emerged of the strong links between the security forces and the paramilitaries. Judicial and disciplinary investigations advanced in several high-profile cases, implicating high-ranking officials in human rights violations, but impunity remained widespread.” (link) Well, what are we going to say about that? Maybe we’ll just add that the US has a large number of military “advisors” in Colombia.

Eritrea/Ethiopia - Two countries which lead a World-War-I style war against each other (incl. trenches etc.). And for Ethiopia, Amnesty reports “Armed conflict continued within Ethiopia between government forces and Oromo and Somali opponents; many human rights violations by government troops were reported. Suspected rebel supporters were detained, tortured and extrajudicially executed. Several thousand remained in detention; some had been held for years without charge or trial. Journalists, human rights activists, demonstrators and other critics of the government were arrested. Most were held without trial, although some received unfair trials. During local elections in March, April and December scores of opposition party supporters were subjected to intimidation, beatings and arbitrary arrest.” (link)

Georgia - “There were numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment in custody. Two people died in custody in circumstances suggesting torture or ill-treatment may have contributed to their deaths. The authorities failed to investigate allegations adequately and bring those responsible to justice. Attacks against members of non-traditional religions continued unabated. Prison conditions were often extremely harsh. In the disputed region of Abkhazia, conscientious objectors to military service continued to face imprisonment.” (link)

Philippines - “Defects in the administration of justice were highlighted by reports of torture and ill-treatment of criminal suspects by police to extract confessions and of extrajudicial executions of suspected drug dealers and others. Women in custody were vulnerable to rape and sexual abuse. Complaints procedures, investigations and criminal prosecution of suspected perpetrators of human rights violations failed repeatedly to provide effective redress. Arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial executions and ”disappearances” were reported in the context of military counter-insurgency operations. Armed political groups were responsible for grave abuses, including killings, torture and hostage-taking.” (link) As is widely known - but sparsely being reported - the US likes to use countries like the Philippines to get suspects tortured. Torture constitutes a major human rights violation.

Turkey - “Thousands of prisoners were held in conditions of prolonged isolation which could amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, while the debate surrounding the high security ”F-type” prisons intensified. The pressure on human rights defenders increased: they faced harassment, death threats, arrests and prosecution, and branches of human rights associations were closed. Many people were imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression, particularly when they expressed opinions on the Kurdish question, the ”F-type” prisons or the role of Islam. Torture in police custody remained widespread and was practised systematically, while the perpetrators were rarely brought to justice. Two Kurdish politicians ”disappeared” in gendarmerie custody. Dozens of political killings were reported, some of which may have been extrajudicial executions.” (link)

United Kingdom - I found some interesting information about the UK. I didn’t have time to look into it, yet. Jimmy Breslin reports “I received Friday a report that the commander of British troops who are invading Iraq is general Sir Mike Jackson. He was an officer in the Parachute Regiment in Derry, in Northern Ireland, in 1972. He came out of the Intelligence Division in the Holywood Barracks outside of Belfast. It was shown to be a torture chamber. On January 30, 1972, which in Derry became known as Bloody Sunday, Jackson was on the streets in the unit of paratroopers that committed the atrocities. They murdered 14 men and boys and shot many more. In a tribunal investigating the affair, Jackson said, ‘I was one of the group around Derek Wilford (the commanding officer) and that is where my memory properly kicks in.’” Go and read the whole article. It’s not very delightful to see what kind of people are now supposed to bring democracy to Iraq.

Uzbekistan - “Reports of ill-treatment and torture by law enforcement officials of alleged supporters of banned Islamist opposition parties and movements, such as Hizb-ut- Tahrir, continued unabated. Thousands of devout Muslims and dozens of members or supporters of the banned secular political opposition parties and movements Erk and Birlik were serving long prison sentences, convicted after unfair trials of membership of an illegal party, distribution of illegal religious literature and anti-state activities. Reports continued to be received that devout Muslim prisoners were singled out for particularly cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in places of detention, particularly prison camps. Several prisoners, among them a prominent human rights defender, died in custody, allegedly as a result of torture. There were at least 22 death sentences, reportedly imposed after unfair trials, and at least four executions were carried out.” (link)

Plus there are those members of the “Coalition of the Willing” who are quite unwilling to find their names in public. We don’t know who they are but they might include Israel (with its abysmal human rights records)and various Arab countries (ditto).

It seems to me with a “Coalition of the Willing” like this fighting for freedom, democracy and human rights needs a lot of luck. Don’t expect too much. And, ah yes, I almost forgot:

Kuwait - “The majority of human rights violations related to the period of martial law following the withdrawal of Iraqi forces in February 1991. Ten years later, despite the recommendations by the UN Human Rights Committee in 2000, the government had still not addressed most of these violations, including the imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, unresolved extrajudicial executions and ”disappearances”, and political prisoners sentenced after manifestly unfair trials in the Martial Law and State Security Courts.” (link) If this is the kind of freedom and democracy people have in mind for Iraq there’ll be a lot of work for Amnesty International.