Human Rights Watch World Report 1990 - Iraq and occupied Kuwait

Events of 1990

Any examination of the Iraqi government's human rights record in 1990, in the light of the stance adopted by the Bush administration toward that stained balance sheet, would have to conclude that this was a "before and after" portrait. For the United States, the moment of truth was August 2 – the date when President Saddam Hussein shocked the world by invading, and occupying, neighboring Kuwait. His forces' brutal treatment of many thousands of Kuwaitis and foreigners trapped by the conflict is now familiar knowledge to most readers.

With the US and the United Nations Security Council in the vanguard, a chorus of denunciation of the Iraqi forces' abuses in Kuwait was heard during the fall. Graphic eyewitness testimony from Kuwaiti civilians to heinous human rights violations such as extrajudicial executions, torture, rape and large-scale arbitrary imprisonment filled newspaper columns and television screens around the world. UN Security Council resolution after resolution condemned the Iraqi government in unequivocal terms, calling on it to respect the various international human rights instruments to which it is a party.

Saddam's flagrant disregard for the fundamental rights of his own citizens had, however, long been familiar to Iraqis themselves, and to some outside observers. Over the past two years, the US State Department, the staff of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Amnesty International and a number of Western journalists were among those who documented the regime's crimes. In February 1990, Middle East Watch issued a 193-page report, Human Rights in Iraq, cataloging the extraordinary oppressiveness of the Ba'th Party regime since its seizure of power in 1968. The report concluded that over the past two decades, apart from freedom of worship, virtually every important liberty has been denied Iraq's 17 million people.

Human Rights Developments in Iraq

Given the closed nature of Iraq, obtaining independent information about such matters as judicial procedure and the exercise of the rule of law is particularly difficult for any external observer, whether a diplomat or a human rights worker. However, during the spring of 1990, two legal cases – one in Baghdad and the other in London – provided a rare glimpse into the machinations of the Iraqi judicial and political system.

Farzad Bazoft, an Iranian-born journalist working for The Observer, the London weekly, had been arrested on September 15, 1989, together with a British nurse, after investigating reports of a huge explosion at the al-Qaa Qaa munitions plant. Held incommunicado for six months, Bazoft was apparently tortured to extract a televised confession of espionage on behalf of Israel and Britain – an admission he subsequently retracted. After a summary hearing, a closed-door revolutionary court pronounced the death sentence.

Political leaders around the world, including UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, joined in appeals to Saddam Hussein for clemency. (To its discredit, the Bush administration did not feel it necessary to endorse these appeals.) Ignoring the international outcry, the Iraqi government hung Bazoft on March 15.

Iraqi Information Minister Latif Nasif Jasim, a close aide to the President, indicated the levity with which his government imposes the ultimate sentence when he remarked, "Thatcher wanted him alive. We sent him in a box." Iraq makes liberal provision for the use of the death penalty, including for such offenses as the propagation of Zionism or Freemasonry, or membership by former military officers in parties other than the ruling Ba'th.

Much less public attention was given a few weeks later to another case, this time before the High Court in London. Nominally, the case involved a financial dispute between the Iraqi government-owned Rafidain Bank, as the plaintiff, and a subsidiary of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a Kurdish guerrilla organization-cum-political-party. But court documents made clear that, in fact, it pitted the highest echelons of the Iraqi government against the PUK. Its outcome hung on the validity of the government's tendentious assertion that the rule of law and the separation of powers prevail in contemporary Iraq, in theory and practice.

The case was eventually settled, inconclusively, out of court, but not before sworn depositions had revealed that the Iraqi government had framed two Rafidan Bank employees: sentencing them to long jail sentences so as to make its own case against the PUK more plausible. When a key witness in the case, a Kurd identified only as "Hassan," fled the country for his own safety, several of his close relatives were seized in his place, and imprisoned.

In a society of victims, the Kurds stand out. The Kurdish minority is a non-Arab ethnic group, with its own language and ancient cultural identity, which numbers between three and four million in Iraq. Most live in the mountainous northeast part of the country, adjoining the Kurdish-populated regions of Iran and Turkey. At least 12 million Kurds live in Turkey, seven million in Iran and another million or so in Syria and the Soviet Union.

Upon the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds asserted their right to self-determination on the basis of their ethnic, linguistic and cultural cohesion – a right recognized in the 1921 Treaty of Sèvres. However, more powerful national interests prevailed over those of the Kurds. The British, with the consent of the League of Nations, included the oil-rich, and largely Kurdish, Ottoman province of Mosul within the boundaries of a new state of Iraq. The result was an embittered, intermittently rebellious population that has been a constant thorn in the side of its host countries, as well as a tool in the hands of feuding neighboring states.

While the Kurds have rarely, if ever, been ruled with benevolence, nowhere has their repression been more devastating than in Iraq. Recent examples of their treatment include:

  • Chemicals weapons slaughter. On April 15-16, 1987, March 16-17, and August 25-27, 1988, dozens of villages in Kurdish areas of Iraq were decimated by chemical weapons delivered by aerial bombardment. The US State Department reckoned the death toll in the thousands. Many of the male victims were Pesh Merga (Kurdish nationalist) guerrillas. However, investigations by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee concluded that those clearly hors de combat – women, children, the aged and the infirm – comprised the overwhelming majority of victims. Well over 140,000 Kurds were forced to flee to neighboring Iran and Turkey, abandoning their possessions.
  • Persecution of returning refugees. Responding in part to a series of amnesties proclaimed by Baghdad, and in part to pressure from Turkish authorities, several thousand Kurds returned to Iraq in 1989 and 1990. According to Amnesty International and Kurdish exile groups, hundreds who returned in 1989 were soon seized by the authorities and disappeared, or were forcibly transported to resettlement camps guarded by the Iraqi army, far from their homeland.12 In 1990, the treatment of returning refugees improved. Between 400 and 500 returned from Turkey in two batches, in the March-April and June-July periods. Preliminary information suggests that they came to no harm.
  • Forced resettlement. In 1985, the government embarked on the latest of an historic series of attempts to alter the population composition of the rebellious northeast of the country by replacing Kurds with Arabs. According to the US State Department, about half a million Kurds had been relocated in the secret operation through the end of 1990, while hundreds of Kurdish villages and small towns were destroyed. Eyewitnesses say the Kurds' new houses are typically in desolate areas bereft of economic opportunity. By 1990, the forcible depopulation of the Kurdish countryside was largely complete. Ironically, however, in a bid to boost domestic food production following the imposition of the UN-sanctioned trade embargo, some relocated Kurdish farmers were encouraged in the fall to return to their original lands.
  • Mass disappearances. In August 1983, an estimated 8,000 members of the Kurdish Barzani clan, 315 of whom were children, were arrested. (The late Mulla Mustafa Barzani was the founder and long-time leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the largest of the Iraqi Kurdish guerrilla forces.) No information has ever been given as to the fate of those detained. The "Barzani 8,000" are merely the largest of many such disappearances. The KDP has recorded the names of 439 Kurds rounded up in late 1988 after they were unable to escape abroad following the chemical weapons attacks of that year; their whereabouts remain unknown. Other estimates of the number unaccounted for range up to 7,500.
  • Extrajudicial killings. In August or September 1989, Kurdish opposition parties claim that about 60 fishermen plying their trade on Lake Dukan, in northwest Iraq, were killed under fire from Iraqi helicopter gunships. While the PUK acknowledges that it had been ferrying fighters across the lake from a nearby military camp, it insists that, in this case, unarmed noncombattants were the victims.13 The action appeared to be a repetition of the use of such gunships against Iraqi army deserters hiding out in the marshes of southern Iraq, in 1988 and 1989.

Exile sources and human rights organizations say that the persecution of the Kurds, as well as of the country's smaller Turcoman and Assyrian Christian minorities, continued into 1990, albeit on a reduced scale. In January, for instance, 30 Turcomans are believed to have been executed, on unspecified charges. Among them were four people who had returned from Turkey the previous year under official amnesties.14

Two years after the Kurds' flight, in November 1990, a Middle East Watch mission to southeast Turkey was able to visit two of the three refugee camps for the 27,000 Iraqi Kurds still temporarily housed in that region. Three mass outbreaks of food poisoning in the camps – in Kizel Tepe, on June 8-9, 1989, Mus, in December 1989, and Diyabaker, on February 1, 1990 – resulting in serious illness for thousands, and at least three deaths, were plausibly blamed by camp leaders on Iraqi agents intent on coercing the refugees into returning to their homeland.15

As Iraqis of all backgrounds have learned at their cost, no political dissent, however mildly expressed, is permitted under Saddam Hussein. Such is the prevailing fear of the mukhabarat, the ubiquitous secret police, that Western reporters in Baghdad found no one willing to voice for attribution any criticism of the President or his policies.

Nor is it possible for officials to disagree with his decisions, as discovered by the dozens of senior army officers reported by exile organizations to have been executed in July for opposing the decision to invade Kuwait. In June 1989, Defense Minister Adnan Khairallah Talfah, Saddam's own brother-in-law, was officially said to have been killed in a helicopter crash. However, Iraqi exiles in London are convinced that he, too, was secretly executed, for criticizing the President's decision to take a second, younger wife.

Over the 22 years of Ba'th Party rule, thousands of Iraqi professionals and intellectuals have been forced into voluntary exile in Western Europe and the United States. But even abroad, those who have engaged in political activity have not been safe. In January 1988, Shi'a Muslim leader Sayyed Mahdi al-Hakim was lured from his place of exile in Iran to the Sudan, where he was shot to death at the Khartoum Hilton. The Sudanese government later accused Iraqi embassy personnel of involvement in the murder, compelling Baghdad to close the mission.

Assassination attempts have even extended to the United States. An abortive plot against two Iraqi exiles in California in 1990 was linked to the Iraqi mission to the United Nations. Unlike their Sudanese counterparts, though, the State Department shrunk from the public condemnation of Baghdad which the evidence of official Iraqi complicity warranted.

The case began on February 17, when federal and local police in Modesto, California, arrested an Iraqi immigrant, Adni Khoshaba, in connection with a suspected assassination plot against Sargon Dadesho, an exiled Iraqi dissident active in California's Assyrian community. Three days later, Khoshaba was released on grounds of insufficient evidence. According to The Modesto Bee, which first reported the story, by the end of the week Khoshaba was traced by federal agents to the Iraqi mission in New York, where he had previously worked as a driver. From there, he left the United States.

Despite the ostensible dearth of evidence, Khoshaba was indicted in absentia by a federal court six weeks later, on charges of plotting to kill Dadesho and another unidentified Iraqi exile of Kurdish extraction. The two-count indictment charged that Khoshaba had made two round trips to New York to meet an Iraqi diplomat, who promised him $50,000 to assassinate or arrange the assassination of the two men. Hours after the indictment was made public, the State Department announced that an unnamed Iraqi diplomat had been expelled from the UN mission, for "abuse of his privileges of residence in the United States." The diplomat, it transpired, was First Secretary Ahmad Al-Amari.16

During 1990, Iraqi officials as well as the country's supporters in the United States spoke confidently of extensive revisions being drafted to the Interim Constitution of 1970. The implication was that these revisions would liberalize the treatment of citizens, improving basic rights such as freedom of expression, assembly and political participation.17 With the war against Iran over, the argument ran, the regime could afford to relax its grip. Foreign travel restrictions were eased in early 1990, providing the limited number of Iraqis who could afford to travel, and were permitted to leave, with a much-needed breath of fresh air. But by the end of 1990 there was still no sign of the promised new constitution.

One legislative change which was introduced, far from advancing personal liberties and civil rights, marked a significant regressive step by a regime which had previously proclaimed the existence in Iraq of sexual equality. On February 28, President Saddam signed a new law, Decree 111, effectively decriminalizing the murder of women alleged to have engaged in sexual relations outside marriage, as well as of their lovers, by the women's male relatives. The new law, believed by US officials to have been introduced in response to a spate of wife-killings by recently demobilized soldiers, was promulgated on March 12.

Its introduction provoked an unexpected storm of protest from women's groups in several parts of the Muslim world, as well as private diplomatic representations from Egypt, then a close ally of Iraq. Hundreds of Egyptian citizens – migrant laborers in Iraq – had reportedly been among the victims of the affronted Iraqi men. Apparently in response to these protests, Saddam Hussein had second thoughts and withdrew the legislation the following day, March 13.18 It was a potent example of the effectiveness of diplomatic and public pressure on the Iraqi regime, refuting standard US government arguments to the contrary.

What political changes there were in the offing in Iraq in 1990 appeared more likely to entrench further the personal position of Saddam Hussein, already head of state, chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council – the top policy-making body – secretary of the so-called Regional Command (the Iraqi section) of the ruling Arab Ba'th Socialist Party, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Foreign journalists visiting Baghdad in 1990 noted with interest the political rehabilitation of the once reviled Iraqi monarchy, overthrown in a 1958 coup; the well publicized return from exile of Saddam's disgraced eldest son, Udayy, generally regarded by Western diplomats as the heir apparent;19 and the deepening of a Ceausescu-style personality cult around Saddam.

As for the National Assembly, a legislative body with strictly limited powers, its unanimous endorsement of every proposal made by Saddam during the Gulf crisis indicated that it remained as much a rubber stamp for the executive's actions as ever.20 Elections to the Assembly were held in April 1989, and some independents were allowed to run. But all candidates were subject to prior screening by the mukhabarat to determine their support for the government.21

Hopes for a more democratic government in Iraq, committed to a reversal of the many abuses committed by the Saddam regime, depend crucially on the outcome of the confrontation in the Persian Gulf over the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. Prospects that a hypothetical post-Saddam government might pay greater respect to human rights improved after a marathon series of meetings of Iraqi opposition groups abroad. On December 27, seventeen parties concluded an agreement in Beirut committing themselves to democracy and a multiparty system. Among the agreement's points were an end to discrimination against Shi'ites (Iraq's leadership is currently dominated by members of the country's minority Sunni Islam sect); the reversal of the "Arabization" of Kurdish towns; and a recognition of Kurdish rights, as contained in the KDP's March 11, 1970 Declaration.22

Human Rights Developments in Iraqi-Occupied Kuwait

Gross human rights abuses against Kuwaiti citizens and other residents of Kuwait commenced in the immediate aftermath of the August 2 invasion. Hundreds were killed or wounded, and thousands detained, in the takeover. Hundreds of thousands of others were forced to flee the country.

Iraqi soldiers and militia committed countless acts of theft, rape and assault on civilians. Others participated in criminal activity as law and order broke down. In an attempt to improve its public image, Iraq publicized the summary execution of a handful of accused looters and rapists.

During August, Iraq attempted unsuccessfully to find support among Kuwaiti public figures. Instead, Kuwaiti volunteers acting on their own initiative took over the running of hospitals and food cooperatives and the performance of sanitation work and gasoline distribution. Faced with these perceived challenges and in response to continued resistance – both peaceful and armed – Iraqi occupying authorities acted swiftly, and violently, to assert their unquestionable control in Kuwait.

Scores of people were summarily executed in September and October, including physicians, hospital volunteers and food-distribution personnel, some of them in front of their families. Scores more were killed in confrontations with Iraqi forces, or in detention. Iraq has yet to give an accounting of people killed in its custody – either to relatives or to neutral organizations. Middle East Watch estimates that at least 600 were killed in the first three months following the invasion.

In that same time, more than 5,000 were arrested. Detainees included political leaders, such as members of the former National Assembly, as well as Red Crescent and other medical personnel and community volunteers. Political figures were detained with family members, including children as young as 13 years of age. Arbitrary arrest and detention continued unabated through the end of the year. So did the practice of holding detainees incommunicado for long periods, and the practice of illegally transferring them to Iraq. The Iraqi government gave no accounting of those it held, despite requests to do so by Middle East Watch and other organizations.

Detainees reported being housed in crowded and unsanitary makeshift detention centers. There, they were systematically tortured to extract information, gain cooperation, mute opposition or set an example to discourage others. Interviews with former detainees showed widespread, and apparently officially sanctioned, ill-treatment of those in custody, such as sleep deprivation, beatings with sticks and metal pipes, mock executions, and threats of execution or harm to family members.

While Baghdad issued an order for Iraqis who had moved to Kuwait after the invasion to leave, it did not clarify its position on the return of Kuwaitis to their country. Kuwaitis were arrested and detained when they tried to enter Kuwait – for clearly peaceful purposes – through desert routes from Saudi Arabia. One person known to Middle East Watch was arrested in early December while trying to return home to take his aged mother out of Kuwait. Three others were also arrested that month when they tried to enter Kuwait to be with their families. All four were held incommunicado. During December, the Iraqi government did allow several hundred Kuwaitis to return to Kuwait through Jordan and Iraq. That flow stopped, however, after the reported harassment of returnees, some of whom were active in a grassroots armed resistance.

The Iraqi invasion turned some 400,000 Kuwaiti citizens into refugees, and displaced hundreds of thousands of foreigners who had made Kuwait their home.

Collective punishment was meted out in response to individual acts of resistance. Houses were methodically burned, or deliberately destroyed by tank fire or explosives. Relatives of suspects and wanted public figures were detained and tortured to extract information on their relatives' whereabouts.

All of Kuwait's public hospitals, which constitute the overwhelming majority of health care facilities, and some of its private clinics were taken over by the Iraqi military, making access difficult for Kuwaitis, and next to impossible for victims of official abuse. A number of physicians, a hospital administrator and several medical volunteers were executed on suspicion of helping the resistance. Medical equipment and drugs were seized and shipped to Iraq, resulting in severe shortages of vital drugs. The deterioration of health care, which was further aggravated by the flight of most medical personnel, contributed to the departure of many Kuwaitis to neighboring countries, and to the death of patients for whom the health care system could no longer provide adequate help, including newly born infants.

Kuwaiti food stocks were seized and shipped to Iraq, leading to severe shortages of food, including baby formula. Food coops, which had been owned by Kuwaiti citizens, were taken over by Iraqi administrators, leading to credible charges of discrimination against Kuwaitis. The manager of one food coop and a volunteer at another were summarily executed, and dozens of other volunteers were detained. A number are known to have died while in government custody.

Free assembly and expression were banned by Iraq, and those found with illegal leaflets were killed or otherwise severely punished. Only one newspaper, al-Nida' – a newly created mouthpiece for the occupying power – was allowed to publish. Occupation authorities took control of the University of Kuwait campuses, replacing top university administrators and deans with Iraqis.

The rare visits by foreign journalists to Kuwait took place only with official escorts. Iraq did not allow any humanitarian organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, into Kuwait. In fact, Taha Yassin Ramadan, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister and right-hand man to the President, went so far as to threaten with mutilation any person attempting to go to Kuwait to investigate human rights conditions without Iraq's permission.

Kuwaiti public property was seized and shipped to Iraq. There was large-scale, systematic and officially sanctioned appropriation of property belonging to Kuwaiti government institutions, including vehicles, office furniture, school and medical equipment, goods in port warehouses and military and aviation hardware. Some private property was also seized by the Iraqi government or looted. Robbery by soldiers and looting was so extensive and widespread that it could only have taken place with official sanction or as a result of gross negligence by the Iraqi authorities. One shopping mall was looted even though it was located next to a large Iraqi command post at the Sheraton Hotel.

Although the Kuwaiti dinar was previously worth three Iraqi dinars, Iraq decreed parity between the two currencies and then declared the Kuwaiti dinar unacceptable tender. All bank accounts were figured according to the new formula, drastically reducing their value.

US Policy

In the early stages of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, the US government decided to try to staunch a threatening wave of Islamic fundamentalism emanating from Tehran. From this step, undisclosed at the time, flowed a policy of pinning at least part of future US commercial and geopolitical interests in the region on the Saddam regime. The record thus shows that criticism by the Reagan and Bush administrations of the Iraqi dictator's domestic conduct was consistently muted, and economic assistance to his financially hard-pressed government – in the form of US government-backed credits and loan guarantees running into billions of dollars – was made freely available.

Prior to the Kuwait invasion, it seemed as if the Bush administration, aided by certain friendly members of Congress and a well oiled business lobby, was prepared to go to considerable lengths not to upset steadily improving relations with Baghdad. Attempts during the first half of 1990 by both the House and the Senate to introduce trade-sanctions legislation against Iraq – citing that country's threats against Israel, its military build-up and its human rights record – were consistently blocked by the administration. Just two days before the invasion, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs John Kelly testified on Capitol Hill to this end.

This conciliatory approach to dealing with the Saddam regime appeared to have been set from the top. Its pitfalls, and contradictions, were exposed most glaringly in the transcript of a conversation in Baghdad on July 25 – eight days before the invasion of Kuwait – between US Ambassador April Glaspie and the Iraqi President. According to the Iraqi transcript, the accuracy of which has not been challenged by the State Department, Ambassador Glaspie was conciliatory almost to the point of subservience. At one stage, she allegedly referred to the Iraq-Kuwait dispute as "an inter-Arab affair of no concern to the United States."

It was not only the State Department that was guilty of fawning on Saddam Hussein. Both the Commerce and Agriculture Departments were strong proponents of closer trade links with Iraq, a leading purchaser of US wheat and rice. Only when Iraq began to fall into serious arrears in repayments on US loans guaranteed by the Export-Import Bank did the administration reluctantly take action, in early 1990, to cut its credit line.

Congress, too, must bear its share of the blame. According to another Iraqi transcript of a meeting in Baghdad on April 12, Senator Robert Dole ingratiatingly assured the Iraqi leader that a Voice of America staffer responsible for a broadcast that had indirectly compared Saddam with the late Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had been fired. He was wrong.

This resistance to sanctions came despite the State Department's ample cataloguing of Iraqi atrocities. Published in February 1990, the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1989 was largely accurate in its findings on Iraq, although in places it appeared ready to give the Iraqi government the benefit of the doubt where such generosity was undeserved, as in the case of torture, where evidence of its unchecked and widespread practice was not reflected. Similarly, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 15, Joshua Gilder, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, pulled no punches in describing Iraqi abuses, stating:

Human rights, as such, are not recognized in Iraq. As our report details, the ordinary Iraqi citizen knows no personal security against government violence. Disappearances, followed by secret executions, appear to be common.... The penalty for expressing opinions deemed objectionable by the regime is swift and brutal. We believe that over the past ten years many thousands to tens of thousands...have been arrested by the secret police on suspicion of opposition to the government.... [T]here is not even the charade of due process for those charged with security-related offenses broadly defined to include such routine criminal matters as currency violations.... Torture is routine, for security offenses and ordinary crimes alike, and confessions extracted under torture are admissible in court.... In general, the regime is ruthless in its efforts to maintain absolute control over the population.

Apart from these commendable denunciations by the State Department's Human Rights Bureau, public criticisms of Iraqi abuses were few and far between. There was nothing comparable to the Gilder statement at venues such as the UN Commission on Human Rights, when attempts in February to put Iraq in the dock were being mounted by other Western countries, or at moments such as the Bazoft trial, when leadership from the US could have been decisive. Instead, despite protestations by officials about their use of private diplomacy for human rights concerns, it seems that the US chose to do nothing.

The response to the suspected assassination plot in California, in February, strongly indicated a desire to shield the Saddam regime from too much public opprobrium. On March 2, before the story became public, Lee Hamilton, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, questioned Assistant Secretary Kelly about allegations that the Iraqi mission in New York had been involved in attempts to assassinate political opponents in the United States. Stonewalling, Kelly pleaded the need to preserve confidentiality on the subject.

It was only after the publication of the incident in several newspapers, and the retaliatory expulsion of a US diplomat from Baghdad, that the reluctant administration publicly confirmed the essential facts of the case. However, what was missing from the statement, delivered by Kelly to the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, was the clear connection to the Iraqi government itself. Nor did the US government publicly protest to Baghdad about the incident.

After August 2, it was, of course, a different story. Then it seemed as if the subject of human rights in Iraq and occupied Kuwait was on every official's lips, from President Bush on down. The President's remarks in December, to the effect that he wished to bring the Persian Gulf crisis to an early resolution – if necessary, by waging war – because of an explosive Amnesty International report, indicated the extent to which accounts of human rights abuses had become political dynamite.

The Work of Middle East Watch

In February, Middle East Watch published the fruit of a year's research into Saddam Hussein's rights practices, in a lengthy report entitled Human Rights in Iraq. With minor updating, this comprehensive document was rereleased in the fall, in a new joint publishing venture with Yale University Press.

During the course of the year, the organization continued to monitor developments inside Iraq, raising them with the Iraqi authorities when required. In March, it protested over the absence of due process in the Bazoft case, highlighting the strong suspicion that torture had been used against the journalist. Later that month, it raised the issue of new legislation encouraging violence against women. This inquiry elicited a rare response from the government, stating that the legislation had been withdrawn.

In the High Court case in London between the Iraqi government and the PUK in May, Middle East Watch agreed to act as an expert witness for the defense. Written and verbal testimony was provided, challenging the government's central assertion that all officials, including Saddam Hussein himself, were subject to the law of the land.

The invasion of Kuwait in August provoked an intensive effort by Middle East Watch to monitor the human rights situation inside Kuwait, despite Iraq's refusal to permit access by neutral observers to Kuwait. An additional complication in accurately documenting the abuses was the exaggerations being accepted as fact by some Western officials.

Over the five-month period to the end of the year, the organization issued three newsletters based on extensive interviews with recent refugees from Kuwait in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the other Gulf states. The first, in August, dealt with the human rights and humanitarian law standards incumbent on all parties to the conflict, and with the foreigners used as hostages and "human shields." The second, in September, addressed the conduct of Iraqi troops in Kuwait. The third, in mid-November, provided a comprehensive overview of the violations committed by Iraqi forces – an overview which was updated a month later.

Middle East Watch also raised with UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar the neglected issue of tens of thousands of Asian workers stranded in Iraq and Kuwait who faced starvation, due to the restrictive approach to the food embargo adopted by the UN sanctions committee, as well as Saddam's callous disregard for the workers' well-being and his refusal to permit access by international humanitarian organizations to distribute food. Research was also launched into the poor treatment by several Arab Pensinsula states – all allies of the US – of another overlooked group of victims: the tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians resident in the Gulf for decades.

During the course of the crisis Middle East Watch gave dozens of radio, television and press interviews, and took part in many other public speaking engagements.

11 By treating occupied Kuwait as part of the chapter on Iraq, Middle East Watch in no sense condones the Iraqi invasion or recognizes the declared annexation of Kuwait. Rather, this treatment reflects the organization's policy of addressing abuses according to the forces committing them rather than the geographic boundaries in which they happen to be committed. For a discussion of human rights conditions in Kuwait before the Iraqi invasion, see the separate chapter on Kuwait, infra.

12 Amnesty International also reported that 33 Assyrian Christians and their families who returned from Turkey and Iran to Iraq in late 1988 and early 1989, under various amnesties, were said in March 1989 to have disappeared. Most were from Dohuk province. Amnesty International, Iraqi Kurds: at risk of forcible repatriation from Turkey and human rights violations in Iraq, June 1990, p. 5.

13 Interview by Middle East Watch with Dr. Latif Rashid, European representative of the PUK, January 3, 1990.

14 Amnesty International, ibid, p.5.

15 The mission observed overcrowding, a lack of schooling and employment, and poor sanitation in the camps.

16 Middle East Watch interview with Sargon Dadesho, November 1990.

17 Amended in 1973 and 1974, the Interim Constitution is Iraq's basic legal document. Draft revisions were said to have been in preparation in 1989 as well, but never materialized.

18 Letter to Middle East Watch from Dr. Abdul Amir Al-Anbari, Ambassador of Iraq to the United Nations, April 12, 1990.

19 Udayy Hussein had been responsible for the killing of his father's favorite bodyguard in 1989, and was subsequently sent into exile in Western Europe. No charges were ever brought against him after the then Minister of Justice publicly pleaded with Saddam to display clemency to his son.

20 See Middle East Watch, Human Rights in Iraq, February 1990, p. 38.

21 Testimony by Joshua R. Gilder, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at a hearing entitled "US Relations with Iraq"; 15 June, 1990.

22 The 17 parties that took part in three months of meetings in Damascus and Beirut ranged from the Communists to the Islamists, together with the five-party Iraqi Kurdistan Front and a dissident Ba'th faction.

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