Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2017, 11:39 GMT

Amnesty International Report 2003 - Iraq

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 28 May 2003
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2003 - Iraq , 28 May 2003, available at: [accessed 24 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Covering events from January - December 2002

Head of state and government: Saddam Hussain
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: not signed

Scores of people, including possible prisoners of conscience, were executed. A general amnesty for prisoners was announced, but the fate of tens of thousands of people who "disappeared" in previous years remained unknown. Non-Arabs, mostly Kurds, in the Kirkuk region continued to be forcibly expelled to Iraqi Kurdistan. Relatives of opposition activists continued to receive threats.


The threat of US military intervention against Iraq increased considerably towards the end of the year. In January US President George W. Bush labelled Iraq as part of an "axis of evil" and during the year he called for a "regime change" in Iraq. The US government accused Iraq of possessing weapons of mass destruction, in breach of UN Security Council resolutions, which would constitute a "threat to US security". In a speech to the UN General Assembly in September the US President urged the UN to ensure Iraq's compliance with all UN resolutions and threatened to take military action against Iraq if the UN failed.

In November, after two months of negotiations, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1441. This demanded that Iraq abolished its weapons of mass destruction and gave weapons inspectors from the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency sweeping powers, including "immediate and unimpeded access" to any Iraqi site. The resolution gave Iraq a week to accept it and a month to make an accurate, full and complete declaration of its programs to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles. It threatened Iraq with "serious consequences" if it did not take advantage of "a final opportunity" to cooperate and disarm.

Iraq accepted the resolution and at the end of November the UN inspectors began work. In December Iraq submitted its declaration to the UN Security Council. The chairman of UNMOVIC, Hans Blix, stated that there were "gaps" in the declaration and the US government said that the declaration was not complete and Iraq was in "material breach" of its obligations.

Iraq remained under economic sanctions, imposed by the UN since 1990. In May the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1409, which allowed Iraq to import goods without prior agreement from the UN Sanctions Committee. The Security Council also adopted a list of goods that could have military or dual use which would need approval by the UN Sanctions Committee. The "oil-for-food" program was renewed for six months after Iraq accepted Resolution 1409, and for a further six months in December.

Civilian deaths resulting from increased air strikes by US and United Kingdom (UK) forces against Iraqi targets inside the "air exclusion zones" were reported during the year. The Iraqi government said that four civilians were killed when US and UK aircraft attacked Iraqi targets in the Mosul area in the north in February. In July the government stated that five people, including a family of four, were killed when US planes bombed an area in al-Diwaniya in the south.

In February the UN Special Rapporteur on Iraq visited the country – the first time the government had agreed to a visit by the Special Rapporteur since 1992. The Special Rapporteur raised long-standing human rights concerns in his talks with senior government officials, visited two prisons and met other people, including religious leaders and judges. In April the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution accusing the Iraqi government of "all-pervasive repression and oppression sustained by broad-based discrimination and widespread terror". The Commission extended for a further year the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur.

In October President Saddam Hussain was re-elected for a further seven-year term after winning a reported 100 per cent of the votes in a presidential referendum. He was the only candidate.

General amnesty

In October the Revolutionary Command Council, Iraq's highest executive body, issued Decree No. 25, signed by President Saddam Hussain, purportedly ordering the release of all prisoners. The amnesty included "prisoners, detainees and fugitives jailed for political reasons and all other ordinary reasons, including [those] sentenced to death... inside or outside Iraq". However, it excluded Arabs condemned or accused of spying for Israel and the USA. The names of those who benefited from the amnesty were not published by the authorities and most of those released had reportedly been charged with offences such as drug smuggling, possession of weapons, collaboration with Iran, corruption and bribery. The releases were made conditional in November when a new decree was issued stating that those released would not be pardoned if they committed fresh offences.

Hundreds of Iraqis living abroad, including opposition activists, were said to have returned to the country following the amnesty. The fate of the tens of thousands of people who "disappeared" in the 1980s and in 1991, including foreign nationals, remained unknown.

Death penalty

The death penalty continued to be applied extensively. Scores of people, including possible prisoners of conscience, were executed during the year. The victims included suspected members or sympathizers of political and religious opposition groups, and army officers suspected of having contacts with the opposition abroad. In many cases it was impossible to determine whether the executions were judicial or extrajudicial, given the secrecy surrounding them.

  • In March, five people were executed in the General Security Directorate in Baghdad, reportedly for murdering a Ba'ath Party official and a policeman in the village of al-Wahabi near al-Kufa. Hussain al-Sayyid Hammadi al-Buhadma, Kamil al-Sayyid Muhsin 'Abbas al-Buhadma, Hamza 'Uwayd Jouida 'Idan, Qassem al-Sayyid Jaber Hamza and 'Inad al-Sayyid 'Abbas Hamza had been arrested in December 2001. Their families were reportedly denied proper funeral ceremonies. It was not known if the five had been tried.
  • Three army officers, including Mohammad Abdallah Shahin and Mohammad Najib, were reportedly executed in Mosul in March for their alleged criticism of the Iraqi President.
  • In July, five people from Basra were executed in Abu Ghraib Prison. Fadhel Mrawwadh 'Inaya al-Hamdani, Salah Jabr al-Hamdani, Falah Jabr al-Hamdani, Jassem Ahmad al-Hamdani and 'Ali Jawwad al-Haydari had been arrested at the end of 2001 and were reportedly accused of membership of illegal Shi'a Muslim opposition groups.
Forcible expulsions of non-Arabs

Non-Arabs in the Kirkuk region, mainly Kurds but also Turkmen and Assyrians, continued to be expelled to Iraqi Kurdistan. A few were expelled to southern Iraq. Thousands have been deported in recent years because of their ethnic origin and Kirkuk's strategic location and oil resources. The authorities encouraged Arabs from the centre and south to move to Kirkuk.
  • In July, Akbar 'Omar, Sa'di Ali Karimand, Haji Mohammad Khosro and their families were expelled to Iraqi Kurdistan from the Shorja district in Kirkuk.
  • In September, Maid 'Abd al-Hammed, Basin Thai, Nazim Shu'at, Ashy Ahmad and their families were expelled from Kirkuk to Iraqi Kurdistan. The same month Omar Unman Hassan, Baqi Fathallah, Najat Abdallah Hassan and their families were expelled from Makhmur town to Iraqi Kurdistan, and 'Abd al-Rahman 'Abd al-Hamid Shafiq, Jangi 'Abd al-Hamid Shafiq, Yussef Jalal Rahman, Mohammad Hama 'Ali, Hussain 'Omar and their families were expelled from the town of Tuz Khurmatu to southern Iraq.
Threats against families of opposition activists

Relatives of some Iraqi opposition figures living in exile were forced by the security services to appear on Iraqi satellite television to denounce their relatives abroad. The apparent aim was to silence those active in the opposition.
  • In January the mother, two sisters and brother of Fa'iq al-Shaikh 'Ali, an Iraqi journalist living in London, UK, were interviewed on Iraqi television in their home in the city of al-Jaf, south of Baghdad. Each family member denounced Fa'iq 'Ali in turn and asked him to stop his political activities. Before the interviews, the family members had been arrested and held for a few days. The arrests came after Fa'iq 'Ali criticized Iraqi government policies in a debate on al-Jazeera, the satellite television station.
  • In October the brothers of al-Shaikh Hajem Hazzara, an opposition activist based in Jordan and a member of the Tribes' Alliance, a political association founded in exile, were summoned for interrogation at the headquarters of the General Intelligence. They were reportedly threatened with physical elimination if their brother continued his anti-government activities. Relatives of other members of the Tribes' Alliance reportedly received similar threats.
Iraqi Kurdistan

In the provinces in northern Iraq, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) announced in September the start of a reunification process and agreed to move forward with the implementation of the 1998 Peace Agreement signed in Washington, USA. The leaders of the two groups met several times. Normalization moves agreed included the reopening of the offices of each party in the areas controlled by the other, the restoration of property seized in fighting during the mid-1990s, the facilitation of movement across their respective areas, and the release of detainees still held since the civil war (1993-97). In October the Kurdish regional parliament met for the first time in six years and in November it announced that it had set up a committee to prepare for legislative elections that would be held by July 2003.

Sporadic fighting between the PUK security forces and members of the armed Islamic group, Ansar al-Islam, continued during the year. Ansar al-Islam, a merger between two armed groups – Jund al-Islam and a splinter group from the Islamic Unity Movement – was said to be behind a number of bomb attacks targeting PUK government officials and buildings.

In August the PUK and KDP authorities introduced legislation which made "honour killings" punishable by a maximum penalty of death.

Political arrests
  • Mohammad Ahmad Mahmoud al-Zahawi, a former member of the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization, was arrested in April in Kalar in the area controlled by the PUK on suspicion of spying for a foreign country. His family did not know his whereabouts until mid-June, when they were told he was being detained in Sulaimaniya by Dezgay Zanyari, the PUK's security and intelligence service. He was released in September. It was not known if he was charged or tried.
  • In September, Burhan Qani, the editor-in-chief of Ray Gishti newspaper, and 'Imad Shekhani, a writer, were arrested in the area controlled by the KDP. They were reportedly still held at the end of the year. The reasons for their arrest and continued detention were not known.
AI action

In September AI urged all members of the UN Security Council to ensure that every effort was made to resolve the Iraq crisis through peaceful means.
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