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Iraq: Amnesty International delegates discover mass grave

'It is essential that effective and prompt investigations take place into all mass graves and disappearances if those responsible for human rights abuses are to be brought to justice,' said Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director, Stephen Bowen. 'This underlines the need for UN human rights monitors to be put in place as soon as possible.'

Over the past 20 years, Amnesty International has collected information on around 17,000 cases of 'disappearances' – but the actual figure may be much higher.

Amnesty delegates have also visited a number of other sites, including:

  • A mass grave close to Basra University where reports were received that 'Chemical Ali' (Ali Hassan al-Majid) had used the site as an execution site. Amnesty International delegates interviewed eye witnesses to the executions who reported people being handcuffed and blindfolded. Some of those killed were collected by relatives while other bodies were bulldozed into a mass grave.
  • Another grave was visited by delegates on the grounds of the Technical University. Delegates were told that UK soldiers had already removed at least one body from the site. It is believed that there are more graves in this same area.

Amnesty International mission delegates are constantly receiving reports of mass graves.

All sites visited by AI delegates have been reported to the authorities. It is vital that they are protected and that evidence is not disturbed. Ideally the area thought to contain the grave site should be secured and placed under 24-hour guard. The reasons for this security are:

  • to ensure that no pieces of evidence are moved (this can lead to co-mingling of bones and the consequent impeding of identification)
  • to ensure that skeletal remains are left undisturbed to allow qualified investigators to see their resting position, gather clothing, rings etc, papers
  • to allow photos to be taken
  • to allow mapping of skeleton locations and other documentation to be made

Such investigations are usually the province of the government though in many previous examples the government responsible lacks the capacity to organise such investigations and it falls to non governmental organsations (such as Physicians for Human Rights or the Argentinian Forensic Anthropology Team) or the UN (teams associated with the Tribunals) to provide such specialist investigation.

These discoveries and reports underline the need for the urgent deployment of UN Human Rights Monitors.

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