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Human Rights and Iraq's Reconstruction
Memorandum to June 24 International Donors Meeting

Human Rights Watch calls on the international donors meeting for Iraq on 24 June to ensure human rights protection is a central element of Iraq's reconstruction and rehabilitation.


Key Sections

Security sector reform
Justice issues
Refugees and internally displaced persons
Women
Children
Landmines and unexploded ordnance

Related Material
Iraq: Human Rights and Reconstruction
The Iraqi people have suffered the cumulative effects of decades of war, sanctions and a corrupt and repressive government. The United States and its allies have a primary responsibility as the occupying power in Iraq to restore and maintain, as far as possible, public order and safety; they also have a duty to respect the fundamental human rights of the Iraqi people. But as the United Nations Security Council recognized in Resolution 1483, there are many ways in which the international community can assist in the protection and fulfillment of human rights in Iraq.

In framing your commitments to Iraq, it will be important to learn the right lessons from recent transitions of this kind, in particular the reconstruction of Afghanistan. First, it is vital that pledges correspond to needs (in Tokyo only $5.25 billion was pledged for Afghanistan, against needs of $20 billion estimated by the Afghan Government and the World Bank), and that donors know their commitments by mobilizing resources quickly. Second, donors need to recognize that reconstruction on the ground cannot proceed unless effective security is established on the ground. In Afghanistan, the international community has pursued a shortsighted and counterproductive strategy, confining its peacekeeping presence to Kabul and entrusting security in the provinces to local warlords with dire human rights consequences. The effect on reconstruction is palpable: eighteen months after the fall of the Taliban, less than 200 million dollars in reconstruction projects have been completed, and no major project has begun. In most cases, the reasons for the delay have been security-based.

Iraq's reconstruction and development will be undermined unless respect for the rule of law and human rights are restored. Iraqi people will not be empowered to participate in the development process unless they enjoy fundamental freedoms.

In addition to mobilizing international donor assistance, it will be important to ensure that Iraq's oil revenues are managed transparently and are directed towards meeting the country's humanitarian and reconstruction needs. Human Rights Watch supports the requirement contained in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1483 to audit both incoming oil revenues and the Development Fund for Iraq. However, we believe that the expenditures from the Fund should also be audited; that the audits should be conducted on at least a quarterly basis; and that the audits should be made public.

Security sector reform

Looting and violence in Iraq have shown the urgency of establishing an effective security presence throughout the country. The occupying power has a primary responsibility for ensuring security, and will need to rely on elements of the existing police forces in the short term. But donors should commit to supporting longer-term police reforms, including the vetting and re-training of all local officials, police, and other security personnel.

Donors will need to help restore the basic infrastructure for law enforcement and justice. In visits to eight open Baghdad police stations, HRW found none that had not been completely stripped not only of essential equipment, archives and office equipment, but even light fixtures and wiring. Donors should help to establish training facilities and programs for reconstituted Iraqi law enforcement agencies, focusing on proper treatment of suspects, effective investigative techniques, and international standards of due process. Special attention should be given in training programs to the special needs and rights of women and children, in particular victims of sexual violence.

Donors should support the establishment of an effective monitoring system, such as an ombudsman's office or national human rights institution, to hold local officials accountable and prevent abuse. They should also help to create a program to protect witnesses and victims of current crimes as well as human rights abuses perpetrated by the former government of Iraq. Such an institution should fulfill the Paris Principles relating to the status and functioning of national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights. Its mandate should cover the full range of human rights issues, and it should have the ability to conduct investigations, make recommendations and make representations to both the occupying power and any transitional Iraqi authority. It should have the independence, diversity, resources and geographic presence necessary for this role.

Justice issues

The Iraqi judiciary was deeply compromised during the more than thirty years of Ba'ath Party Rule. Iraq's Revolutionary Courts, State Security Courts, and Special Provisional Courts were instruments of repression rather than impartial judicial institutions. The Ba'ath Party also interfered with other civil and criminal courts. Major resources will be needed to reestablish an independent judiciary and to retrain jurists, prosecutors, defense attorneys, policy officers, and court personnel. Additional funds will be needed to rebuild the basic infrastructure of the court system which has been significantly looted. Iraq's prisons have been the scene of grave human rights abuses and will need significant reform to bring them into line with international standards.

Iraqi law must also be reformed to comply with international human rights and fair trial standards. Donors should support the creation of a judicial commission comprised of both Iraqi and international jurists to review and make recommendations for the future Iraqi government on changes to national laws in light of international human rights and fair trial standards.

Over several decades, the Iraqi authorities have been responsible for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ensuring accountability for these abuses will be critical in building respect for the rule of law and securing peace and stability in the country. Human Rights Watch believes that this can only be effectively achieved through an internationally-led justice process.

Pending the prosecution of past crimes, donors should pledge financial support for the deployment of international teams of forensic experts to assist in the exhumation of mass graves, preservation of evidence, and training of local Iraqi personnel. Donors should also help with the reestablishment of the Iraqi Institute for Forensic Science to expand Iraq's forensic capabilities and facilities longer term. Donors should commit significant resources to psycho-social and medical support programs for victims of abuse and their relatives, particularly those who endured torture.

Refugees and internally displaced persons

Donors should pledge support for the return and reintegration of the many thousands of Iraqis displaced from their homes or who have sought refuge in neighboring countries or further abroad. At the same time, donor governments must refrain from returning, or assisting in the return, of refugees to Iraq until security conditions permit and without individual screening of their cases. Human Rights Watch's research inside Iraq and neighboring countries has identified a range of protection issues specific to IDPs and returning refugees, including the closing of checkpoints and other restraints placed upon Iraqi civilians attempting to flee to safe areas; the potential for physical violence and other abuse resulting from inadequate housing and lack of provision of basic material support in IDP camps; and the prospect of heightened ethnic tensions, including possible violent reprisals, when IDPs attempt to return home.

Donors should provide immediate assistance with food distribution to combat malnutrition, water purification to protect against disease, and the restocking of medical facilities that were targeted during extensive looting. Donors should also support the development of a proper legal and administrative framework for the reintegration of displaced Iraqis. This should include the establishment of a post-conflict property dispute mechanism to provide fair and efficient procedures before an impartial adjudicator (without prejudice to the jurisdiction of courts to hear other claims arising under domestic property law). Despite some failings, a system similar to that of the Housing and Property Directorate (HDP) in Kosovo might be workable in Iraq. The HDP was given exclusive jurisdiction over the most controversial residential property claims, including claims for restitution of property lost through discrimination, claims for registration of informal property transactions, and claims by refugees and IDPs who lost possession of their homes and who wished to return or transfer their property.

Women

Iraqi women have comparatively high literacy rates for the region, have been active participants in the formal, professional labor sector, including as doctors, engineers, and school teachers. They are well poised to participate fully in reconstruction plans. Donors should involve Iraqi women as equal partners in the design and implementation of projects and programs in all areas, not just those traditionally considered "women's issues". Donors should also fund programs to review and reform existing laws, particularly the criminal and civil codes, to ensure that they are consistent with Iraq's obligations under international human rights standards, do not discriminate on the basis of sex or gender, and afford women equality of access and opportunity.

Reconstruction programs should ensure that women have equal access to aid, including shelter, medical treatment, health care (including reproductive health care), and economic livelihood opportunities. They should be crafted so that they reach women who otherwise might not be aware of or be able to access them, including women in rural areas, single women, widows, and disabled women. Any provision of goods and services should ensure that all women receive proper papers or other documents in their own name to ensure their equal access to these programs.

Donors should support projects providing services to women who have suffered domestic violence, rape, or who fear reprisals from their families in honor killings. These programs could draw upon experience in the northern governates of Iraq and other parts of the region, where such shelters have already been established. Donors should also provide assistance for programs to improve women's legal literacy and access to justice.

Children

Half of Iraq's population is under the age of eighteen. Many children have suffered the catastrophic effects of war and sanctions, only to face new hardships due to the insecurity of Iraq's transition. Donors should give high priority to programs implementing the special protections for children in both the Geneva Conventions and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (which Iraq has both ratified). As a top priority, donors should work to ensure that security conditions, including the presence of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and fears of sexual violence do not prevent children from attending school. Programs should be carefully monitored to ensure that no children face discrimination in access to education.

Donors should also target assistance toward protecting vulnerable sub-groups of children, including girls, street children, IDP and refugee children, and children from disadvantaged social groups, from discrimination and abuse. Such assistance should include programs to address trafficking, forced marriage, and sexual and physical abuse, including abuse by aid workers, military, and other international personnel. All children should be registered at birth, and provided with all other documents necessary to establish their identity and secure their rights. Any projects to reform legal and judicial processes should incorporate the full guarantees afforded children under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and international juvenile justice standards, and the special needs and rights of children should be an integral part of training for judges, prosecutors, police, and other officials whose work brings them in contact with children.

Landmines and unexploded ordnance

Civilian lives in Iraq continue to be threatened by landmines and UXO. This concern has been compounded by the use of cluster bombs by U.S. and U.K. ground and air forces; new laying of landmines by Iraqi forces; and very large numbers of abandoned Iraqi weapons caches. These cluster duds, landmines and abandoned munitions have already caused many civilian casualties throughout Iraq. Casualties are especially high among children, who often play with unexploded ordnance. For example, Human Rights Watch researchers were told that the Basra General Hospital was receiving approximately five injuries a day to children from UXO in early May. Donors should provide funding for the survey, marking and clearance of landmines and UXO, as well as awareness programs with a special emphasis on children.