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Human Rights Watch stance on Iraq

To: Human Rights Watch 

cc: CASI (Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq mailing

Human Rights Watch posted an email to their their
mailing list which I have attached to the bottom of
this email. (CASI members: it's very interesting and
worth reading.)

I have IMMENSE RESPECT for HRW, but there are
inconsistencies in their approach to the Iraqi
situation which bother me.

It's by time HRW took a convincing stand against
sanctions. Therefore, their long overdue statement
should, for the most part, be commended. However, I
find the following issues quite irritating:

1. HRW has said a little, but not much, about the
US/UK bombing of Iraq during the last year. Surely
bombing people without a UN mandate constitutes a
human rights abuse? (Not that bombing people with a UN
mandate is necessarily any better.) Although it's
difficult to determine the number of civillian deaths,
there have been some well-documented incidents. HRW's
response while not silent, has certainly been muted.
Contrast this with their vociferous (and correct)
response to Russian behaviour in the current Chechnyan

2. HRW says that the Iraqi government shares part of
the blame for the increase in the mortality rate. This
is possible, but seems premature given HRW's usual
insistence on high standards of evidence before
issuing accusations. No convincing evidence has yet
been shown of systematic attempts by the Iraqi
government to worsen the food and medicine shortage. 

3. The HRW email calls for Saddam Hussein to be tried
for his HR abuses, mainly because of horrific crimes
committed in the 1980s. I have no problem with this in
principle. (I am not sure about its practical
consequences.) Since HRW has chosen to mix the
distinct issues of the effects of sanctions with
Iraq's past abuses, why does it not play an
even-handed game and criticise Germany, Britain,
Russia, the US and others for their supplying weapons
to Iraq throughout the period of these worst abuses? 

4. Why has it taken so long for HRW to write a letter
to the US government regarding sanctions? The Richard
Garfield and UNICEF reports came out months ago.
Besides, there was overwhelming evidence long before
these reports appeared of the horrendous effects of
sanctions (e.g. the studies cited by Dr Garfield).

5. Some reputable sources have offered a fair amount
of evidence that the allied forces used significant
amounts of DU against Iraq in the Gulf War, that there
have been civillian casualties as a result and that
this contravenes various human rights standards. Since
HRW's email (and their letter to the US government)
seems to mention almost every category of human rights
abuse committed on Iraqi soil during the last fifteen
years, why is there no mention of DU in these letters?

Nathan Geffen

(New York, January 5, 2000) -- 
In a letter released today Human Rights Watch urged
the United Nations Security Council to tighten
controls on Iraq's ability to import weapons-related
goods, but lift most restrictions on non-military
trade and investment in order to address the country's
continuing humanitarian crisis. In the letter to U.S.
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the current Security
Council president, and the heads of other delegations,
Human Rights Watch also called for the establishment
of an international criminal tribunal to try Saddam
Hussein and other top Iraqi leaders for war crimes and
crimes against humanity. The letter charged that
nearly ten years of a comprehensive embargo, coming on
top of the 1991 Gulf War destruction of much of Iraq's
civilian economic infrastructure, has created a public
health emergency which the existing oil-for-food
program and the resolution passed in December do not
adequately address. A memorandum attached to the
letter cites field reports by U.N. agencies and the
International Committee of the Red Cross. "The most
adamant proponents of comprehensive sanctions have
always insisted that their quarrel is not with the
Iraqi people," said Hanny Megally, executive director
of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human
Rights Watch. "The time has come to put these words to
the test." Prohibitions against imports of a military
nature should remain in place, the group said, as well
as end-use monitoring of commodities with military as
well as civilian applications. The letter points out
that no embargo, including the existing one, can
ensure that Iraq does not get access to prohibited
materials. It said that Iraq presently imports without
significant restriction goods paid for with foreign
exchange earned mainly from smuggling and remittances.
It recommended that the U.N. offset the government's
increased access to export and investment revenues
under these proposed reforms by making all imports
liable to inspection at ports of entry. "The scale of
the crisis and the extent of the impoverishment
require more than food and medicine and some spare
parts," said Megally. "Even with the high level of
funding of oil-for-food in 1999, life-threatening
conditions still prevail. We agree that the Iraqi
government bears a large share of the blame. But
Iraq's callous manipulation of the sanctions is part
of the reality that the Security Council has to take
into account. Instead of being content to put all the
blame on Baghdad, as the U.S. government continues to
do, the Council has to face up to its own share of the
responsibility. Blocking the government's access to
foreign exchange is one thing, but choking the entire
economy to do so puts the burden mostly on ordinary
Iraqis." The letter also urged the Security Council to
implement promptly the recommendations of the
"humanitarian panel" it appointed last January. Many
of these were part of the omnibus Iraq sanctions
resolution adopted on December 17, but require further
action by the Council or the sanctions committee.
"These recommendations should not be treated as
bargaining chips to be implemented only if the Iraqi
government cooperates," said Megally. "They are the
least the Security Council must do to fulfill its own
humanitarian obligations." Human Rights Watch has
extensively documented war crimes and atrocities
committed by the Iraqi government, the letter said,
and fully supports efforts to constrain and hold
accountable those responsible. The group pressed the
Security Council to establish an international
criminal tribunal, like those already set up for
Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, to indict and prosecute
Iraqi officials for whom credible evidence exists of
responsibility for such crimes. The group noted that
such a step was entirely warranted on the basis of the
evidence it has uncovered, and would help dispel any
suggestion that addressing Iraq's humanitarian crisis
implied leniency toward the government. Megally noted
that half the non-permanent members of the Security
Council have just joined this week, and urged them to
promote a fresh approach to the Iraq crisis. Human
Rights Watch said the Security Council had
acknowledged back in 1990 its obligation to monitor
the humanitarian impact of the sanctions, but failed
to follow through. The group said that an impartial
humanitarian body or a special rapporteur should
examine the practices of both the Security Council and
the Iraqi government that affect the humanitarian
situation in the country. Copies of the letter to
Ambassador Holbrooke and the explanatory memorandum
are attached, and are available on the Human Rights
Watch website at
Individual letters were also sent to the heads of
mission of the other members of the Security Council. 

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