Yesterday, President Barack Obama announced that the Iraqi war ends this month. One topic that has reemerged with this announcement is why nobody has been held to account for the initiation and conduct of the war. The following description of crimes of occupation and violations of international law was compiled by United for Peace and Justice in June 2004; therefore, this listing does not cover any additional violations which may have occurred after the date of publication.
“Coalition Forces appear in many cases to be using the climate of violence to justify violating the very human rights they are supposed to be upholding. They have shot Iraqis dead during demonstrations. They have tortured and ill-treated prisoners and detainees.
“They have arrested people arbitrarily and held them indefinitely without charge and without access to a lawyer. They have demolished houses and property in acts of revenge and collective punishment. And they are operating in a legal framework that offers no mechanism in Iraq for bringing members of the Coalition Forces to justice for such acts.” Amnesty International, “Iraq: One year on the Human Rights Situations Remains Dire,” March 2004.
UN Security Council Resolution 1483 passed in May 2003 specifically required the U.S.-led coalition forces and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to “comply fully with their obligations under international law including, in particular, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Hague Regulations of 1907.”
1. Failure to Provide Vital Services and Ensure Inalienable Rights Fourth Geneva Conventions (GCIV), articles 55 and 56 require the occupying power to secure the basic needs of the population. Well over a year since the invasion of Iraq, basic utilities such as electricity, gas, gasoline and water are still not available in adequate measures, nor are services such as sanitation and healthcare. The Iraqi Minister of Health has stated that the healthcare system is currently in worse condition than before the war during the sanctions.
2. Inadequate Security Hague Resolution article 43 requires an occupying power to maintain law and order. However, theft-related incidents continue to be one of the top causes of deaths today and women continue to be victims of rape and homicide, largely due to the lack of security provided by coalition forces.
3. Unlawful Attacks Extremely hostile and ineffective house searches, which are often conducted without prior warning, are common U.S. military practice and have resulted in countless civilian deaths as well as unlawful arrests, pillage and damage to property. Under the GCIV, article 33, “no protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all means of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.” However, taking the lead from the widely condemned tactics used against Palestinians by Israeli forces, collective punishment and extra-judicial executions (outlawed by GCIV, articles 32 and 147 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) have become common U.S. military practice and has escalated to alarming levels with the indiscriminate attacks on civilians in Falluja, Ramadi and Baghdad. Many have fallen ill or have died as a result of being denied access to food, medical supplies ad treatment.Clearly marked ambulances, medical personnel and facilities have been attacked. These are war crimes defined under GCIV, articles 14-23.
4. Illegal Arrest, Detention and Interrogation Practices Human rights organizations in Iraq estimate that up to 18,000 Iraqis are being detained, most of whom have been denied any access to lawyers and families. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (HCRC), 70-90 percent of the 43,000 Iraqis detained during the occupation have been innocent bystanders.
According to the “Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade,” conducted by Major General Antonio M. Taguba, acts of torture at the Abu Ghraib prison have included “forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped; positioning a naked detainee on a MRE Box, with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to stimulate electric torture; a male Military Police guard having sex with a female detainee; breaking chemical lights and pouring phosphoric liquid on detainees; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell.” Like many detainees who have been tortured in Guantanamo and Afghanistan, many have been killed while in U.S. custody. All these practices are clearly banned by GCIV, articles 32 and 147, GCIV Protocol 1, article 85 and the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
5. Hiring of Private Military Contractors Mercenaries have fficially been banned since 1989 by the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries. In addition, there is little jurisdiction beyond domestic law that can place limits on the actions of private military companies.
The U.S. has employed up to 20,000 military contractors in Iraq (a ten-fold increase since the Gulf War), operating with virtual impunity.
6. Lack of Compensation, Even for Wrongful Death Iraq was required under international law to pay for all the damage caused by its illegal invasion of Kuwait. However, unlike the UN Compensation Commission, which was set up to oversee Iraq’s compensation payments to Kuwait, the U.S. compensation process is administered by the US Foreign Claims Commission, which only compensates Iraqi civilians who have suffered loss or damage in “non-combat incidents” (as judged by the U.S. military) that took place after May 1, 2003. Human rights organizations in Iraq estimate that over 90 percent of Iraqi claims have been denied.
7. Unaccountability and Total Impunity While the aforementioned violations are shocking, what is particularly disturbing is that Coalition Forces have created an atmosphere where there is no mechanism for Coalition personnel to be charged or tried for such crimes under Iraqi law. According to A1, Section 2(3) of CPA Memorandum Number 3, the jurisdiction of the Iraqi courts is removed over any Coalition personnel, in relation to both civil and criminal matters. Furthermore, as Human Rights Watch has noted, private military contractors operate “outside the (U.S) military chain of command and thus (are) ineligible for court-martial.”
8. Changing Iraq’s Law and Restructuring Its Economy One of the most devastating effects of the occupation has been the restructuring of the Iraqi economy. Many of the local laws have been changed to better serve foreign companies and to allow for tighter control of Iraqis. Changing the laws of an occupied country violates the Hague Regulations, the Geneva Conventions, and the U.S. Army’s own code of war, as stated in the Army Field Manual “The Law of Land Warfare.” Perhaps most damaging is CPA Order 39 which has allowed for the privatization of Iraqi state companies, 100 percent foreign ownership of Iraqi businesses, including media and public services, unrestricted repatriation of profits, and 40-year ownership licenses.