Iraq: 'Weak' UN resolution misses human rights opportunities

Amnesty International welcomes that the Security Council resolution includes a commitment by all forces in the country to act in accordance with international law, including their obligations under international humanitarian law. But the lack of clarity about legal responsibilities is of particular concern since a letter by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, annexed to the resolution, provides broad powers to the multinational force to act in Iraq “by preventing and deterring terrorism” and gives the multinational force powers of “internment where this is necessary for imperative reasons of security”.

Internment is a provision of the Fourth Geneva Conventions that deals with the powers of occupying forces. However, neither the resolution nor the letter from Mr Powell clarifies the legal basis for such internment, or the international or national standards that must be observed by the multinational force under the broad powers given to them in the resolution “to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq”.

The resolution also fails to specify how the multinational force, or contractors working for them, will be held accountable for any abuses committed - a matter of great importance given that Iraqis have been tortured and ill-treated in detention by USA and UK forces in Iraq, which is one of several issues raised by Amnesty International in its recent open letter to all members of the Security Council.

Yvonne Terlingen, Amnesty International's Representative at the United Nations, said:

“It is ironic that countries that came to justify their intervention in Iraq on grounds of human rights failed to give human rights its proper place in the resolution and acknowledge their own binding obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.”

Amnesty International calls on all parties, especially the multinational force, to clarify that they will fully meet all their obligations under international law, including fully respecting all human rights which Iraq is bound to uphold under the human rights treaties to which it is a party.

Amnesty International also calls on the Security Council and all concerned to clarify immediately what will happen to the thousands of prisoners currently held by the occupying powers in Iraq. Amnesty International has emphasised that the Security Council, which authorized the presence of the multinational force in Iraq, bears a special responsibility for the prisoners’ safety. Amnesty International has urged that their situation be immediately clarified, and that they be provided with full legal safeguards to which they are entitled under human rights law. It urges the Council to ensure that the UN will be able to carry out its full mandate to promote and to protect human rights in Iraq, including by playing a special monitoring role with regards to prisons and detention centres.

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