Iraq: Fear of war crimes on both sides

The organisation's Senior Director of International Law has called on Coalition forces to justify the targeting of Iraq's main TV station in Baghdad.

Coalition forces have confirmed attacking the main Iraqi television station early on Wednesday. The BBC reported US Central Command in Qatar saying that missiles struck Iraq's main TV station. The Pentagon is reported to have said the purpose of the operation was to counter the command and control abilities of the Iraqi regime, and also to deal with propaganda and the disinformation campaign of Baghdad.

Claudio Cordone, Senior Director for International Law at Amnesty International, said:

'The bombing of a television station simply because it is being used for the purposes of propaganda is unacceptable. It is a civilian object, and thus protected under international humanitarian law.

'To justify such an attack Coalition forces would have to show that the TV station was being used for military purposes and that the attack properly balanced the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated with the incidental risk to civilian life.'

During Operation Allied Force, the US and NATO bombed the headquarters of Serbian radio and television (RTS) on the grounds that RTS was a propaganda organ and that propaganda is direct support for military action. Sixteen civilians were killed.

Claudio Cordone added:

'Attacking a civilian object and carrying out a disproportionate attack are war crimes. The onus is on the Coalition forces to demonstrate the military use of the TV station and, if that is indeed the case, to show that the attack took into account the risk to civilian lives.

'At times of war many civilian activities can be seen as supporting, in a general way, the war effort. But to accept that all such activities can be targeted is to accept the logic of 'total war'. Preventing the devastation of such 'total wars' has been one of the key underpinnings for the development of the rules of war in recent decades.' Iraqi forces are reported to have deliberately shelled civilians in Basra and to have placed military objectives close to civilians and civilian objects. There have also been reports of Iraqi troops dressed in civilian clothes in order to allow surprise attacks on coalition troops.

'Any direct attack on civilians is a war crime. Those who blur the distinction between combatants and civilians undermine the very foundations of humanitarian law,' said Claudio Cordone.

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