The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
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Dear friends Some weeks ago you posted a letter sent by Nathan Geffen to me, critiquing HRW's intervention on Iraq sanctions. I attach here my response, which has already been sent to Nathan Geffen, and would appreciate it if you could give it equivalent exposure to hisoriginal. thanks in advance Joe Stork Dear Nathan Geffen, Thanks for taking the trouble to respond to HRW's intervention on Iraq sanctions. I apologize for not responding earlier. We're glad you find it "for the most part" commendable. For the rest, I have a few comments in response to yours, though in the end I feel we have to agree to disagree at least regards some of those. 1. US/UK bombing campaign: Bombing without a UN mandate does not constitute a human rights abuse per se. It may well be illegal, but that is something else, as is the question of whether it represents sound policy. The pertinent human rights question is whether these attacks are conducted in a manner consistent with humanitarian law, in terms of proportionality and diligence to avoid harming civilians and civilian objects. In other words, the fact of civilian casualties does not automatically translate into violations of humanitarian law. This would be the case only if such casualties were the result, for example, of deliberate targeting, or recklessness, or disproportionate force with regard to the immediate military objectives. Scrutiny of such a campaign would be appropriate whether or not there is a UN mandate. It is certainly not out of line to call for an investigation of the civilian impact of these attacks. As you are probably aware, the Iraq chapter in our latest World Report, published in early December, includes some reporting on the bombing, but Human Rights Watch has not up to this point attempted the sort of investigation that would allow us to make an informed judgement. Based on the information that is available, we have seen no grounds for believing that these attacks have constituted violations on the scale of Russian practices in Chechnya. As you are no doubt aware, the UN Coordinator in Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, has insisted that reporting on the civilian impact of the bombing be considered part of his brief, much to the annoyance of Washington and Whitehall. His tallies of casualties are admittedly based mainly on reports of the official Iraq News Agency, but include some reporting by UN staff and would probably represent a fair place to start in gathering information on this matter. 2. Iraqi government responsibility Our intervention was not based on an independent investigation of the impact of sanctions on civilians, and we make no claim otherwise. It is based on our evaluation of the available reports from UN and other agencies, and interviews with individuals working with those agencies. It may also help to refer to what we actually say about Iraqi culpability, at the top of page 2 of our letter, rather than set up a straw argument about "systematic attempts to worsen the food and medicine shortage." The accounts we worked from, published and otherwise, contain considerable information regarding Iraqi government responsibility in this area, as well as much information that leads us to conclude that the sanctions regime is responsible for a dire humanitarian situation and must be radically altered. After all, there is no "convincing evidence of Security Council attempts to worsen the food and medicine shortage" either, but that was certainly the result of their policies, as it has been the consequences of Iraqi policies as well.. Since you appear to be someone who is also familiar with these reports, such as the ninety-day reports of the Secretary-General to the Security Council on the operation of the oil-for-food program and the report of the humanitarian panel, it seems quite remarkable that you find it only "possible" that Iraqi government policies have contributed to the crisis. I have to tell you that I find this quite astounding. 3. Criminal tribunal First, as someone who appears to be familiar with what HRW has reported or said about Iraq over recent years at least, you should be aware that this government's crimes against humanity, or for that matter its "worst abuses," are not by any means a thing of the past, much less a distant past that your choice of vocabulary and sentence structure seem to suggest. Again, I refer you to the Iraq chapter in our most recent world report. And I think our letter made clear enough that an international tribunal should not be limited to the genocide campaign of the late 1980s. Second, we see the call for a tribunal as an integral part of our call for radically restructuring the sanctions, not as a condition but as an alternative, a step the Council can take that would be directed against those responsible for these crimes, and not against ordinary Iraqis. I regret it if you consider our document to have been less than clear on this point. Third, the sort of tribunal we are calling for would provide an excellent opportunity to expose the support rendered by the many outside powers to the Iraqi government. But it is a curious notion of "even-handedness" that holds that those who provided support and looked the other way have the same responsibility as those who ordered and carried out these many crimes, and that it would somehow be "unfair" to hold Iraqi officials responsible for their crimes unless those Western and other policy makers who expediently supported them in the past are not in the same dock with them. This is not a serious proposition and amounts to yet another excuse for why Iraqi officials should not be held accountable for their crimes. What I see running through your comments 2 and 3 is a disturbing inclination to seize on any rationale to avoid holding the Iraqi government responsible or accountable in any matter whatsoever for its human rights crimes, its aggression, its continuing efforts to construct weapons of mass destruction, and its policies which have compounded the humanitarian crisis brought on by the war and the sanctions. 4. Timing It is clear I think from our document and your critique that we see this as a somewhat more complicated and difficult matter to address than you do, and that we read at least some of the reports differently than you do. Garfield, for instance, makes clear that the earlier reports amount to something less than "overwhelming evidence." 5. DU DU was used in the Gulf War, approximately 300 tons of it in the form of 30mm bullets fired by the A10 aircraft and 120mm anti-tank penetrators fired by US and UK tanks. However, there are no "reputable sources" showing evidence of a direct link between DU contamination and civilian casualties in Iraq. There are reports of an increase in disease and cancer (though even here available health records do not confirm or disprove this assertion). These increases are then attributed to DU contamination, without considering other potential causative factors, including chemical and biological agents released during the bombing campaign (another complex issue), harmful chemicals released by other conventional weapons (such as rocket fuel and explosives), toxins, and heavy metals released into the atmosphere by oil-well fires in Kuwait. No one has done an independent study on this issue. WHO was asked, but so far has not done such work. Because of the lack of credible independent studies, from Iraq or elsewhere, HRW has not determined that DU use contravenes humanitarian law standards. This is one reason DU is not mentioned in our letter. The other reason is that DU use or misuse is not the Security Council's purview, as sanctions and the question of a tribunal clearly are. Sincerely, Joe Stork
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