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U.N.: Special Sitting Urged on Iraq FREE    Join the HRW Mailing List 
Human Rights Watch Letter to Chair of U.N. Commission on Human Rights

H.E. Ms. Najat Al-Hajjaji
Permanent Representative
Permanent Mission of People's Libyan
Arab Jamahiriya to the United Nations
Route de Lausanne 319
1293 Bellevue

March 24, 2003

Your Excellency,

Human Rights Watch urges you as chair of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to convene a special sitting during the current session to consider the situation in Iraq and make recommendations on how human rights can be protected, both during and after the conflict.

In past years, the Commission on Human Rights has held special debates during its regular sessions to deal with current human rights crises, including in Chechnya and the Occupied Territories. The Commission has also been convened exceptionally between its regular sessions to consider the following country situations: former Yugoslavia (1992); Rwanda (1994); East Timor (1999); Israel and the Occupied Territories (2000).

During the high-level segment opening this 59th session of the Commission, several speakers, including yourself, focused on the possible human rights consequences of the war in Iraq. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has also called on all parties to the conflict to respect fully international human rights and humanitarian law. The current war may have devastating consequences for the civilian population of Iraq: civilians may suffer as a result of indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks by US and allied forces; Iraqi military forces may commit abuses or use civilians as human shields; local armed groups opposed to the Iraqi government may commit revenge killings and other abuses; hundreds of thousands of people may be displaced from their homes and prevented from seeking refuge in neighboring countries; the destruction of infrastructure and disruption to basic services may threaten public health and safety.

Human Rights Watch believes the Commission should not wait until human rights abuses occur, but convene a special sitting now to anticipate these concerns and take effective preventative action. This could be held in several parts throughout the duration of the session, to allow members to consider and respond effectively to unfolding events. Human Rights Watch urges that a special sitting consider the following measures to monitor and ensure the protection of human rights both during the conflict and in any post-conflict situation:

  • Call on all warring parties to respect fully international human rights and humanitarian law and take effective measures for the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

  • Insist upon full, prompt and impartial investigations of any allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. The Commission could request the Secretary-General to appoint an international commission of experts who would be on stand-by for this purpose.

  • Call on all U.N. member states, particularly those neighboring Iraq, to admit and protect refugees in accordance with international refugee law.

  • Call on the warring parties and all U.N. member states to address the humanitarian needs of refugees outside and civilians inside Iraq. Urgently explore options for ensuring that U.N. and humanitarian agencies have full, safe and unimpeded access to all such populations, and in particular to those most in need, such as the internally displaced, the very poor, children and the aged.

  • Request the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report to the Commission on a weekly basis with an assessment of all available information on human rights concerns, including abuses by any party to the armed conflict.

  • Request all Special Procedures of the Commission on Human Rights, in support of the existing Special Rapporteur on Iraq, to stand ready to make visits to Iraq (as soon as conditions permit) and neighboring countries to investigate abuses and make recommendations on human rights protection.

  • Request the High Commissioner for Human Rights to make the necessary arrangements for the establishment of a strong and effective human rights monitoring presence inside Iraq at the first opportunity. If conditions do not permit this for the time being, monitors could be stationed in neighboring countries. The deployment of human rights monitors throughout Iraq has been repeatedly requested by the Commission and the General Assembly, most recently last December in UNGA resolution 57/232. They would be able to provide the United Nations system with authoritative information and analysis on the human rights situation within the country and recommendations for remedial action, including long-term institutional reform. Useful elements for the specific configuration of such a monitoring mission are set out in the interim report to the General Assembly of the Special Rapporteur on Iraq issued on 19 August 1992 (A/47/367 - section III) after he had briefed the Security Council on the human rights situation in the country.

Human Rights Watch looks forward to continued dialogue with you on this important issue and other matters before the Commission.

Yours sincerely,

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Joanna Weschler
U.N. Representative

cc. H.E. Ms. Rajmah Hussain, Malaysia
H.E. Mr. Jorge Voto-Bernales, Peru
H.E. Mr. Mike Smith, Australia
Mr. Branko Socanak, Croatia
H.E. Mr.Walter Lewalter, Germany
H.E. Mr. Manuel Gonzalez-Sanz, Costa Rica
H.E. Mr. Prasad Kariyawasam, Sri Lanka
H.E. Mr. Sipho George Nene, South Africa
Ms. Maria-Francisca Ize-Charrin, OHCHR
Mr. Eric Tistounet, OHCHR