STATEMENT OF MR. MAX VAN DER STOEL,SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR OF THE
COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN IRAQ
Fifty-fifth session of the Commission on Human Rights, 22 March - 30 April 1999
Item 9: Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world
31 March 1999
[Check against delivery]
The Commission on Human Rights decided at its session early in 1991 to appoint two independent experts to investigate and assess, respectively, the actions of the Iraqi authorities during their occupation of Kuwait and the actions of the Iraqi authorities within Iraq. Professor Walter Kälin of Switzerland reported on the situation of human rights in Kuwait under Iraqi occupation. Following discontinuation of his mandate, I was assigned responsibility to report on the continuing violation of the missing Kuwaiti and third country nationals. This issue thus became part of my mandate in addition to reporting on violations committed by the Government of Iraq. It is important to note that I have never been mandated to report on the wider context of disputes involving Iraq.
Upon my appointment, I was overwhelmed by the mass of material which was put before me. United Nations files were already full of thousands of documented cases of disappeared persons, of cases of alleged torture, arbitrary execution and other serious violations of human rights. The cases, having occurred over several years but with increasing frequency since the early 1980s, bore considerable similarities. But there had never been a country-specific mandate to study the situation as a whole. I was now confronted by not only this compiled material, but also the new mass of allegations which flowed from the recent events in Iraq. Having examined the submissions, I immediately undertook to meet with alleged victims. Their personal testimonies were wholly consistent with the documentary material. Accordingly, I submitted a summary of the allegations to the Government of Iraq in order to learn their views. I received back only their denials and excuses. I then embarked upon a mission to visit not only Iraq, but also the neighbouring countries where I met with large numbers of persons who had recently fled from all parts of Iraq. I received their testimonies, ranging from individuals who showed me their scars and wounds from torture to the hundreds of Kurdish women who held up their fingers indicating the numbers of family members who had been taken by the Iraqi authorities and subsequently disappeared. I also met representatives of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens who had been arbitrarily expelled from Iraq merely because of their supposed “Persian” ancestry. The testimonies I received, supplemented by documentation and sometimes physical evidence, were again wholly consistent. And so was my own experience of the police-State in which I found myself upon visiting Iraq. In sum, the evidence revealed a pattern of systematic gross violations of human rights.
I reported this to the Commission on Human Rights in 1992. The Government of Iraq denied everything, refused me a return visit to the country, and eventually cut off contacts with me. Nevertheless, I have continued to seek and receive information, and I have continued to report my findings. The Government has continued simply to deny everything or to offer limpid excuses even for its own laws which blatantly sanction arbitrary killing for anyone who insults the President or institutions of the regime, and laws which prescribe tortures for criminal acts like petty theft or evasion from military service. Increasingly, the Government of Iraq seems to find comfort in attacking my personal integrity — attacking the messenger since they are unable to refute the message. And all the while, there have continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights in Iraq.
These past eight years I have submitted almost a thousand pages of reporting on the situation of human rights in Iraq. I have analysed and reported upon the situation of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights. I have studied the politico-legal regime which affects the whole population, and especially tolerates no political dissent. I have also studied the special situations of persons in particular regions of Iraq — the north and the south — and of particular communities: the Kurds, the Turkomans, the Assyrians, the Marsh Arabs and the Shi’ite religious community. I have also reported upon the effects of Government policy on particularly vulnerable groups: women, children, the elderly, and refugees. All the while, the violations have continued without the slightest indication of any change in Government policy — of any effort or intention to improve the situation of human rights in Iraq. And all the while the Government has simply denied everything.
In my current report to the Commission on Human Rights, I have the sad duty yet again to report: allegations of numerous and systematic arbitrary executions; interferences with the independent religious practice of the Shi’ite community; continuing internal deportations of ethnic Kurds; violations of the rights to food and health; violations of the rights of the child; and the Government’s continuing failure even to cooperate in efforts to resolve the hundreds of cases of missing Kuwaitis and others who disappeared under the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.
In the past year, I have received allegations of arbitrary executions from various sources. It is my duty to evaluate and report upon these allegations, especially as they fall within the same pattern of previously established violations. They allege executions of large numbers of persons within Iraqi prisons for various crimes including for political reasons. Reports indicate that army officers have been among those executed, including some top officers in the last few weeks allegedly for planning a military coup and also others in relation to unrest in southern Iraq following the assassination of Ayatollah Mohammed Sadek al-Sadr and his two sons.
The assassination of Ayatollah al-Sadr on 19 February 1999 merits further attention. In itself, the killing of one of the leading Shi’ite clerics is important because it shows the risks which such persons suffer in Iraq. Ayatollah al-Sadr had been gaining in popularity in Iraq, especially since he has called for the release of Shi’ite prisoners — an action which apparently angered the Iraqi authorities. As a leader of the Shi’ite religious establishment, the Ayatollah enjoys considerable prestige among the Shi’ite community of Iraq which constitutes a majority of the population. In a country well-known not to tolerate the least spectre of opposition, the Ayatollah’s modest actions placed him at serious risk. But, his risk and eventual assassination must be seen in the wider context of the string of assassinations of Shi’ite clerics, including two other leading Ayatollahs in April and June of last year. Moreover, ever since the attacks against the Shi’ite religious establishment in April 1991, when Ayatollah al-Khoie was forcibly abducted and imprisoned by the Iraqi authorities together with numerous other clerics, there has continued systematic suppression of religious activity among the Shi’ite community. Well over 100 clerics and religious scholars remain missing from their April 1991 abduction, and the once large religious establishment in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala has steadily declined. The Government denies any responsibility. But, how is it possible in a country like Iraq where security is so well organized and maintained — where internal movement and external frontiers are strictly controlled — that high Shi’ite clerics and their family members are murdered at regular intervals? And why only this group of persons in particular? The Government has the audacity to lay the blame at the feet of Shi’ite faithful themselves, and agents from hostile countries. But what kind of perverse logic would motivate Shi’ite faithful to kill their own religious leaders apparently o
nly to embarrass the Government of Iraq?
The situation in Iraq, the reports of executions and the assassination of Ayatollah al-Sadr must be seen in the wider context also of other violations by the Government of Iraq. Among these is the systematic and forcible internal deportation of Kurds and Turkomans from the city and region of Kirkuk. This policy of ethnic transformation — of “Arabization” — has been going on for many years. Not trusting ethnic Kurds and Turkomans, the Government has been rewarding loyal Arabs with houses and jobs in Kirkuk in place of Kurds and Turkomans. This is not a fanciful invention of anyone’s imagination. Many of the displaced persons flee to the northern Governorates of Dahuk, Arbil and Suleiymaniyah where they are assisted by independent bodies such as the UNHCR and the WFP. Officers of these organizations can attest to the numbers of internally displaced to whom they distribute humanitarian supplies donated in measure by other governments. This is the reality of life in Iraq today.
Regarding the broader humanitarian situation in Iraq, it is important to note that the Government is not only the cause of great suffering, but it has even on a number of occasions interfered with efforts to improve the situation. For example, in the period 1992/1997, landmines placed by the Government of Iraq have caused more than 15,000 casualties of which 30% of the victims were children. Yet, the Government has so far failed meaningfully to cooperate in facilitating the work of the United Nations demining programme. As for the rights to food and health, affecting especially the most vulnerable in Iraq, the Government has for years on end failed to cooperate fully with the United Nations to end the sanctions or to take full advantage of the “food-for-oil” formula which was made available years ago. For almost five years, the Government simply refused to cooperate at all. And since finally accepting to cooperate, the Secretary-General’s own reports specify that the Government has failed to facilitate fully the programme either by failing to make orders for necessary foodstuffs and medicines or failing to distribute goods received. Specifically, as of 31 January 1999, the Secretary-General reports that some USD 275 million worth of medicines and medical supplies had accumulated in warehouses in Iraq. Failure to cooperate in this humanitarian programme is not only a serious violation of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but I believe it reveals a great deal about the overall attitude of the Government of Iraq.
In my current report to the Commission, I have also reported again on the still missing 604 Kuwaitis and some others who were taken by Iraqi forces during the illegal occupation of 1990-1991. Unfortunately, there has been very little progress in the last several years and now the Government of Iraq has simply discontinued its cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the other members of the Tripartite Commission on Missing Persons. Apparently, the Government of Iraq wants the world just to forget about these people and the pain caused to their families.
I submit that it is not a difficult task to clarify unequivocally the situation of human rights in Iraq. In the first place, Iraq is a State Party without reservation to almost all human rights treaties. In addition, the Government of Iraq has never deemed it necessary to derogate from any of its obligations. At the same time, the mass of evidence — testimonial, documentary, and physical — is so abundant and so consistent, including straightforward provisions of law, that one cannot escape reaching conclusions of serious violations of human rights in Iraq simply as a matter of logic. However, to reveal absolutely the emptiness of Iraqi denials and excuses, I have consistently recommended the sending to Iraq of United Nations human rights monitors who could move freely throughout the country and report daily on the situation as they see it. If the Government of Iraq have nothing to hide, then they should have no problem accepting this proposal. Indeed, any open society generally respecting human rights should have no problem accepting such independent and impartial observers. But, tellingly, Iraq has steadfastly refused this simple proposal.
Regrettably, the situation of human rights has not improved in Iraq, nor does it show any sign of improving. In my view, so long as there remains the same politico-legal order in Iraq, serious violations of human rights will continue. I believe it is up to the Government of Iraq to take steps to change the situation. It can begin by accepting, at long last, United Nations human rights monitors throughout the country.
Thank you Madam Chairperson.