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Iraq: Amnesty International UK warns combatants to adhere to international law

'Indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks are prohibited under international law,' said Amnesty International UK Director, Kate Allen. 'Amnesty International is urging all participants to abide by their fundamental obligation to protect civilians and non-combatants, including not attacking media outlets or the infrastructure.

'Military intervention must not increase the suffering of the Iraqi people.

'Despite evidence of their long-lasting and devastating impact on the civilian population, Prime Minister Tony Blair has so far refused to rule out the use of cluster bombs in any hostilities in Iraq, and the US has been stockpiling thousands of anti personnel mines (banned under UK law) off the British territory of Diego Garcia.'

Cluster bombs leave unexploded 'bomblets' over a wide area, which can explode at the slightest touch. Amnesty International called for a moratorium on their use in October 2001, during the bombing in Afghanistan, and the organisation is supporting the Landmine Action / Diana Fund 'Clear Up Campaign' which is calling for a freeze on the use of cluster bombs until clearing up obligations are included in international law.

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Amnesty International is also calling on all governments to ratify and implement the 1997 treaty which bans the use, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines, and is opposed to the use of other indiscriminate weapons, particularly nuclear weapons and chemical and biological weapons. The US is likely to use landmines and appears to be prepared to break the Chemical Weapons Convention by allowing the use of toxic chemical 'calmatives', 'incapacitants' and riot control agents such as CS and pepper spray in any military action in Iraq.

Amnesty International is also calling for:

  • effective protection and assistance to refugees and internally displaced persons from Iraq, with neighbouring countries urged to maintain open borders
  • all parties to ensure the safety and security of those in territories under their control, taking measure to prevent abuses by their own troops and allies
  • all parties to ensure that the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi pupulation are fully met
  • a comprehensive approach for bringing to justice perpetrators of crimes under international law
  • all those involved in conflict in Iraq to recognise the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court
  • the international community to make a sustained commitment to provide financial and technical support for the long-term reconstruction of a justice system and police service that has human rights at its core, breaking the cycle of impunity that has been in existence for decades in Iraq
  • the UN to implement its own recommendation of putting in place human rights monitors. Human rights monitors would play an essential role in the immediate aftermath of any possible large-scale military action against Iraq, as the human rights situation in the country may deteriorate further. In the longer term a human rights field presence in the country would provide necessary expertise and advice for legislative and institutional reform and the establishment of the rule of law.

'The international community must recognise that there is no 'quick fix' to the problems in Iraq,' said Amnesty International UK Director, Kate Allen. 'We know from experience in Afghanistan that there will need to be a substantial and prolonged effort to promote human rights for all Iraqi civilians. It will by no means be over when the final bomb has been dropped.'


On 2 March 2003 it was reported that US President Bush has authorised the use of riot control agents such as CS and pepper spray, and 'calmatives' or incapacitants in any potential military action in Iraq. Riot control agents are permitted for use in domestic law enforcement but not in war according to the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which both the UK and US are signatories.

Amnesty International is also concerned that the US will be using landmines which have been stockpiled off the shore of the British Indian Ocean Territory of Diego Garcia, which would be in contravention of the landmines ban if they are transited through British territory. In 1997 the Convention on the Prohition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction ('Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty') was signed by 122 countries and came into force on 1 March 1999.

Under the Landmines Act 1998 it is a serious criminal offence for a UK citizen to act in breach of its obligations under the Ottawa Treaty ? however Section 5 of the Act created a loophole for British forces engaged in 'international military operations' with countries not party to the Treaty (for example the US).

Kate Allen will be speaking at a joint press conference with Oxfam at the Foreign Press Association in London at 11.30am on Tuesday 18 March, 2003.

Further information and actions about the current crisis are available online.

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