COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Agenda Item 9
Statement of International Educational Development, Inc.,
a non-governmental organization on the Roster
Human Rights in Iraq
1. International Educational Development/Humanitarian Law Project has long been extremely concerned about violations of humanitarian law in Iraq on all sides. Our concerns escalated dramatically with the siege of Falluja by United States forces and the deliberate and direct targeting of civilian hospitals and clinics, other medical facilities, medical personnel, sick and wounded civilians and combatants, storehouses of medical supplies and mobile medical units. Military operations targeting these protected persons and facilities violate Articles 18, 20, and 21 of Geneva Convention IV. The United States subsequent refusal of the right of access of the Iraq Red Crescent violates Articles 21 and 23 of the Geneva Convention IV. The United States subsequent failure to address the crushing needs of the sick and wounded in Falluja violates Article 56 of the same Geneva Convention, or to the degree applicable, Article 15 of Geneva Convention I. The abject failure to provide food, medical supplies and water for the people of Falluja both within Falluja or forced to flee and in camps outside of Falluja defies the duty to do so established by Article 55 of Geneva Convention IV. United States action to prevent supplies being brought to the civilian population both in and without of Falluja by others violates Article 59 of Geneva Convention IV.
2. The seriousness of the military operations against protected medical facilities and persons is compounded by credible allegations of the use of weapons containing depleted uranium (DU or radiological weapons), phosphorous bombs, napalm and other illegal weapons. The use of radiological weapons appears verified by photographic evidence, in that both the Abrams and Bradley tanks in operation in Falluja use these weapons and damage to buildings is consistent with their use. There is wide and credible evidence of napalm and phosphorous use. Use of these illegal weapons would necessarily compound the health situation of both patients and medical personnel as well as the whole of the civilian population.
3. The only defense that the United States made regarding the attacks on Falluja General Hospital was that the United States considered Falluja General hospital an opposition "field hospital." Even if true, and it is patently not, Article 19 of Geneva Convention I provides that such medical facilities "may in no circumstances be attacked." (Emphasis added.) A medical facility so protected may only be attacked if a variety of conditions are met and reasonably verified, including that the "medical" facility is actually no longer a medical facility. None of the conditions that could reclassify Falluja General Hospital, a civilian hospital, to a legal military target, were met, and the United States forces were fully aware of that fact. Regarding other violations, the United States has not publicly made any explanation, other than generalized comments about the enemy in Falluja.
5. The attacks on protected medical materi‚l and persons is also compounded by the complete failure of the United States forces to care properly for the dead as required by Articles 16 and 17 of Geneva Convention I, humanitarian law prohibitions against outrages against personal dignity, and the universal legal principle of respect for the dead.
6. The attacks on medical targets, because they were illegal, are automatically grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, classified as war crimes in international law: they resulted from "willful killing . . .willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health . . . and extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly." (Geneva Convention I, Article 50; Geneva Convention IV, Article 147). Subsequent failure to aid the sick and wounded or to provide subsistence food and water would also qualify as acts "willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health," and hence also grave breaches.
7. Protection of sick and wounded, medical facilities, equipment, personnel and materi‚l is the cornerstone of humanitarian law, being the original intent of the first Geneva Convention in 1864 and the purpose of the Red Cross movement. In this light, the actions by the United States appear to be targeting the Geneva Conventions as much as Iraqi belligerents. Prior to this assault on humanitarian law, United States officials, including planners of these actions and their legal defenders, indicated that the Geneva Conventions were "quaint" or "obsolete" -- a position advocated by the new United States attorney general. In addition, the United States adopted treatment standards and classification of detainees that clearly defy Geneva Convention norms.
8. While the international community has rightly expressed outrage over the treatment of United States held detainees, there has been little outcry over blatant attacks on protected medical targets, with some notable exceptions. Sir Nicholas Young, the head of the British Red Cross, wrote that the erosion of respect for medical neutrality "threatened to obliterate" humanitarian law. Both the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the head of the International Committee on the Red Cross expressed serious concerns. In the United States, where we would hope there would be a huge outcry from elected officials, only Representative Jim McDermott (Democrat, Washington) issued a condemnation, publishing a guest column in the 11 January 2005 edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, pointing out that the attacks on medical facilities and denial of clean water are "serious breaches of the Geneva Conventions." He urged that the attacks in Falluja "cannot be justified by any conceivable ends."
9. Because of the serious assault on medical neutrality, on 18 November 2004 the Association of Humanitarian Lawyers filed an emergency petition at the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of "unnamed, unnumbered patients and medical staff, both living and dead, of the Falluja General Hospital and a trauma clinic." IED joined this action immediately thereafter. We subsequently added confirmed dead medical providers and patients as the first of named petitioners. We argued that these actions violated a number of provisions of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and that the United States did not have any defense under humanitarian law rules to these violations. The case, registered as "Petition No. P-1258-04, United States, is in process, and we submit supplemental documents as we uncover relevant facts. However, at time of writing (February 2005), it is still extremely difficult to obtain any information about Falluja. It appears that the few returning residents are ordered by the United States authorities to be silent about the situation. The media is not allowed unfettered access, and the Iraqi Red Crescent operates under very tight conditions. The situation remains exceptionally precarious for survivors, and it may be difficult to identify the dead -- many of whom were left in the street for weeks and whose bodies are badly deteriorated. Those presumably killed by napalm are burned beyond recognition, and what dental record there might have been were mostly destroyed. Remaining medical persons are presumed to be under great pressures, and fear of additional reprisals permeates all. Accordingly, it might be quite some time before we are able to add many other named petitioners.
10. The international community cannot afford to remain silent in the face of the attacks against Falluja and what they mean, if unpunished, to the fate of the Geneva Conventions and long-established norms of humanitarian law. We remind the international community that the Geneva Conventions require all "High Contracting Parties" to "ensure respect for the [Geneva] Convention[s] in all circumstances" (Geneva Conventions I - IV, Common Article 1). All States must "search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, . . .grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts . . . [or] hand such person over for trial to another High Contracting Party." Geneva Conventions I - IV, Article 49 (I); Article 50 (II); Article 129 (III) and Article 146 (IV). We expect that High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions will take the action required of them.
11. Additionally, while we seek support for our petition at the OAS, we know that any result will be modest in the face of the totality of the Falluja situation. For this reason we urge a full investigation by appropriate United Nations officials, especially the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The UNEP's Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment team should be allowed to investigate this as well, recognizing that the team has requested access to Iraq for assessment since 2003 and has not yet been granted it by the United States. The team has expressed a special interest in looking into DU weapons use and their impact. In like fashion we would urge the World Heath Organization to investigate, provided that such an investigation is truly independent and free from undue pressure that we think has marred other investigations. The Commission can also play a key role in investigation of the events and obtaining remedies for the victims. For instance, Mr. Paul Hunt, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, should immediately undertake action to assess the situation and make recommendations. The Commission can also authorize other special rapporteurs, singly or jointly, to report on this human and legal catastrophe. Finally, the Commission must soundly condemn the attacks on protected medical targets in Falluja, with full recognition of the level of gravity of the violations.
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