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reply on Iraq sanctions

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
 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.

Joe Stork
tel;fax:202 612 4333
tel;work:202 612 4327
fn:Joe Stork

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