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HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS APPEALS TO PARTIES IN IRAQ CONFLICT TO RESPECT HUMAN RIGHTS AND HUMANITARIAN LAW
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20 March 2003


The following statement was issued today by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello:

As hostilities begin in Iraq, I appeal to the Parties to respect human rights and humanitarian law. My paramount concerns are for the safety and protection of civilians, the provision of adequate resources to the civilian population, and guaranteed access and security for humanitarian workers.

At this moment, I must recall the international obligations of the Parties to adhere strictly to the fundamental human rights of all. These rights must remain our guide through the tragedy of conflict. Even wars have rules.

Fundamental human rights norms must be respected at all times. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life. No one shall be arbitrarily detained and no one shall be subject to torture. Every person shall be presumed innocent. There must be no attacks on civilians and the sick and wounded must be cared for.

As Secretary-General Kofi Annan has noted, under international law, the responsibility for protecting civilians in conflict falls squarely on the belligerents; in any area under military occupation, responsibility for the welfare of the population falls on the occupying power.

For some two decades, the people of Iraq have suffered enormously: wars, internal conflicts, denial of the entire spectrum of their rights and the human consequences of sanctions have created a nightmare scenario that can only inspire a huge sense of solidarity.