Human Rights Developments

Nearly 20 million Iraqis continued to suffer under the combined impact of a brutally repressive government and a fifth consecutive year of crippling economic sanctions. The government of President Saddam Hussein continued to impose arbitrary arrests, torture, lack of due process, and an expanded use of the death penalty on a population suffering from critical shortages of food and medicine, high unemployment and rampant inflation. As the year ended there was little relief in sight on both fronts. Iraqis were increasingly dependent on an abusive government that, despite high level defections, remained powerful. And in spite of credible U.N. reports of a health and nutrition crisis in Iraq, the United Nations had hardened its position to maintain sanctions, due partly to Iraq's lack of cooperation in complying with U.N. resolutions.

The Iraqi government continued to punish its citizens under a series of brutal decrees first passed in June 1994. The decrees—which impose punishments constituting torture—ordered the amputation of ears and hands, branding of foreheads and the use of the death penalty for crimes such as stealing, desertion from the military, smuggling antiquities, engaging in currency exchange, organizing prostitution and car theft. The amputations and branding were sometimes carried out in non-medical facilities and without anesthesia. Human Rights Watch/Middle East learned that physicians who refused to perform these procedures, or attempted to repair or reconstruct damage done by such punishments, were themselves punished with amputation and even execution.

New decrees broadened the application of the death penalty. Anyone receiving a third conviction for theft or surgically repairing the disfigurement brought about by branding and amputation would be executed.

In response to Human Rights Watch/Middle East's report on these decrees, Iraq's mission to the U.N. claimed that these laws were a response to the increase in crime and the deteriorating economic situation created by the U.N. sanctions. Responding to calls to repeal the decrees, the mission wrote that parties "...who are eager to cancel these decrees in the name of human rights should work to cancel the reasons that pushed [the government] in the direction of legislating them, and lifting the economic blockade over Iraq will certainly produce new conditions that will lead to canceling the punishments."

In the face of worsening conditions hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fled their country and many others tried to leave. In response to this major exodus of the mainly middle class, the government took several steps. To stem the flow of government employees to other countries the government enacted laws restricting their right to exit Iraq. And to keep state employees from taking better paying jobs in the private sector, the government prevented them, by law, from resigning from their positions. Iraq also placed onerous exit taxes on professionals, especially doctors and dentists, to prevent them from easily leaving the country.

Even Iraqis who managed to flee to Jordan were still vulnerable to Iraqi intelligence agents who operated relatively freely and effectively there. For several months in 1995, Iraqi agents occupied an apartment across the street from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices in Amman in order to monitor and photograph Iraqis seeking asylum.

Human Rights Watch/Middle East spoke with a number of Iraqis in Jordan who received threats, either from staff at the Iraqi Embassy in Amman or from officials coming from Baghdad directly. Pressured to cease any type of activity considered critical of the government, these individuals were threatened with direct action, such as bodily harm or abduction; or indirect action like harassment of relatives who still resided in Iraq. Prior to August, when Iraq was told to drastically reduce the number of its embassy staff, the government of Jordan appeared to turn a blind eye to these activities.

At the end of 1994, the Iraqi government detained Air Force Brigadier General Turk Ismail Dulaimi along with several other Air Force officers for allegedly plotting a coup. Dulaimi was released in April; then rearrested two weeks later and summarily executed. When his body was returned to his family in the town of Ramadi, it reportedly bore marks of torture. This triggered angry demonstrations by members of Dulaimi's family and relatives. The Iraqi government immediately put down the disturbances and afterwards, according to reports from Ramadi, mounted a campaign of arbitrary detentions, torture and summary executions against persons presumed to have links to the coup plot and protests.

In July 1995 the government announced two general amnesties, in part to cope with severe prison overcrowding. The first amnesty related to criminal offenders. The second was offered to political prisoners and government opponents living abroad or in hiding in Iraq. The release of political prisoners and others unjustly imprisoned is usually a welcome development. However, because political opponents were required to register with the Iraqi government in order to qualify for the amnesty, there was legitimate skepticism about the government's real intentions. This would not be the first time that Iraq used an amnesty as a ruse to round up opponents. After the 1991 uprising in the south, Iraq issued an amnesty for which people had to apply. About 3,000 individuals who came forward and registered in Najaf were placed on trucks and have not been heard of since. Some political prisoners were released in 1995 under the amnesty, but most remained in prison.

In spite of the amnesty the government continued to harass, threaten and arrest people on political grounds. Freedom of expression was tightly restricted. Writers who criticized or questioned government policies were detained. For example, Aziz Said Jasim, a political theorist and writer, and Dhargham Hashim, a journalist who published an article favorably portraying Marsh Arabs, remained in prison.

Five years after its invasion of Kuwait, Iraq has yet to provide significant information regarding the condition and location of more than 900 Kuwaitis and others rounded up during the invasion and occupation of Kuwait. Iraq maintains that as of January 1992 all Kuwaitis held in Iraq had been released. But the Kuwaiti government claims that more than 600 Kuwaitis were still being held by Iraq; an independent organization places the figure at more than 900 individuals, including non-Kuwaitis and Kuwaiti Bedoons who were not included in the government's count.

On July 10, the Iraqi government submitted to the U.N. Security Council a memorandum promising to cooperate with an investigation of the disappeared Kuwaitis. It said that it had prepared a response to 230 files submitted by Kuwait through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The government said it would act on the remaining files in cooperation with the ICRC, "provided that there is complete compliance with the requirement of secrecy and avoidance of politics in resolving the matter and that the information provided is credible." This would suggest that, despite earlier denials, Iraq has information on the disappeared.

In August, Lt. General Hussein Kamel Hassan Majeed, minister of minerals and industries and head of Iraq's weapons program, defected to Jordan. Joining him was his brother Saddam Hassan, head of the presidential guard; their wives (Saddam Hussein's eldest daughters); and an entourage of thirty people. While the international community was not sure what to make of this unprecedented development, the Iraqi government acted decisively; it immediately rounded up scores of individuals related to or associated with Hussein Kamel, including soldiers and officers of the elite Republican Guards as well as Mohammad Dhiyab al-Ahmad, minister of housing and reconstruction and Amir Rashid al-Saadi, minister of industry.

Hussein Kamel publicly claimed that he defected in order to serve the interests of Iraq and its people. But, intimately involved in the Iraqi leadership for several years, Kamal and his brother had played direct roles in the government's severe human rights violations. Hussein Kamel directed the destruction of the Shia holy places after the uprisings in 1991, and he was directly responsible for developing Iraq's biological weapons program. Saddam Kamel oversaw the infamous Radwaniyya prison where thousands have been detained without trial and tortured; and many were executed. It was reported that Saddam Kamel personally executed several prisoners.

The government continued to repress Iraq's minority populations. Focusing on the northern city of Kirkuk, the authorities maintained a policy of "Arabization" designed to displace the resident Kurds and establish Arabs as the city's majority; the Kurdish leadership has argued that Kirkuk be placed in the Autonomous Region under Kurdish control. Since 1991, the government has expelled Kurdish families from the city and seized their homes and property.

Other minorities such as the Turkomen, Assyrians and Chaldeans were coerced to list their ethnicity as Arab in a government effort to erase their distinct identities and increase the number of Arabs in the census. Turkomen neighborhoods were confiscated and inhabitants forced to relocate.

In a similar manner, the government subjugated the Shi'a Muslim population, despite the fact that they constitute a majority. Shi'a were prevented from buying homes in Baghdad and some were expelled. In addition, the government moved large numbers of Shi'a to areas in the north, such as Kirkuk, in order to dilute the resident Kurdish majority, "Arabize" the area, and weaken the Shi'a power in southern Iraq.

Although Iraq historically has not targeted Christians, in 1995 Human Rights Watch/Middle East received reports including first hand testimony and documents about abuses against Iraqi Jehovah Witnesses. A group of five Jehovah Witnesses were detained and held without trial by the Intelligence Agency and the General Security force. During their more than two months of detention, they were reportedly beaten and whipped, subjected to severe overcrowding and denied adequate food. Released from prison, their ordeal has not ended; they still suffer periodic harassment, threats of imprisonment, and extortion.

The Right to Monitor

The freedom to monitor or disseminate information about government violations of human rights does not exist in Iraq. Harsh laws punished those who were found to insult or demean government or Ba'th Party institutions, subjecting them to arrest, detention, imprisonment and even the death penalty. As far as we know, no independent human rights organization openly operated within government-controlled Iraq in 1995.

Iraqi exiles monitor human rights developments primarily from Tehran, Damascus, and London. The Iraqi National Congress, a London-based coalition of opposition parties; the Organization for Human Rights in Iraq, a private London-based group; the Documental Center on Human Rights in Iraq, affiliated with the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq; and Gulf War Victims, a private relief organization located in Tehran, were principal sources of information about human rights conditions.

The U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Iraq, Max Van der Stoel, has since 1992 been refused permission by Iraq to conduct investigations. Iraq said in a letter from its U.N. mission that during his last visit in early 1992, Van der Stoel "...behaved in a way which was far from neutrality and objectivity that his mission demands..." The letter provided nothing to support these allegations.

The Role of the International Community

The United Nations

In February, Special Rapporteur Van der Stoel issued an interim report on the situation of human rights in Iraq. He was extremely critical of the use of amputations and brandings by the Iraqi government. He strongly rejected Iraq's argument that such measures were necessary to prevent crime. He decried the treatment of the Shi'a population, condemning the ongoing destruction of the marsh region, military assaults on Shi'a villages, and ongoing "interference in the conduct of religious affairs."

In April, the Security Council passed Resolution 986, under which Iraq would be permitted to sell $2 billion worth of oil every 180 days in order to buy food and medicine for its people. The conditions for this sale included the requirement that most of the oil flow through Turkey and that 30 percent of the proceeds go toward war reparations, U.N. humanitarian assistance programs, U.N. administrative costs, and a separate relief operation in the Kurdish governorates in the northern "safe haven." Iraq rejected the resolution, saying that the conditions infringed on its sovereignty and national unity.

In September the World Food Programme (WFP) issued a report on its August mission to Iraq. "Alarming food shortages are causing irreparable damage to an entire generation of Iraqi children," according to a WFP statement.

The crisis could no longer be ignored or merely blamed on Baghdad. International organizations and some states recognized that if U.N. imposed sanctions were even partly responsible for the deteriorating health and nutritional conditions, then international action—either in the form of stepped up relief or adjustments to the sanctions—was necessary to alleviate the suffering. But hopes of seeing sanctions lifted anytime soon were dashed in August when the defection of Husein Kamel shook loose new information about Iraq's weapons program which had been withheld by Iraq. Compliance seemed to be a long way off and the mood in the Security Council turned sharply against efforts to ease sanctions.

U.S. Policy

While the U.S. held firm to its policy of isolating Iraq and maintaining economic sanctions for the fifth consecutive year, 1995 saw an increasing number of states—mainly in the Middle East, but also in Europe—express serious concern about the impact of economic sanctions on the welfare of Iraqi civilians. The momentum to consider an easing of sanctions received a boost early in the year when it appeared that Iraq was moving closer to compliance with conditions, outlined in U.N. Security Council Resolutions, for lifting sanctions. France and Russia, keenly interested in reestablishing trade relations with Iraq, led this initiative. It was met with determined opposition from the U.S. which insisted on strict compliance with all U.N. resolutions before lifting sanctions, especially the requirement to provide all relevant information on Iraq's past and current chemical and biological weapons capabilities.

Serious humanitarian reasons for easing the crippling effects of sanctions were matched by principled arguments that Iraq had been offered, but refused to accept, arrangements through which oil sales would resume, strictly regulated by the U.N., allowing Iraq to meet the basic needs of its people. It was argued that lifting sanctions without strict control would remove pressure needed to hold Iraq accountable for its aggression against Kuwait and to ensure the elimination of its weapons of mass destruction. Trade and economic considerations increasingly emerged as factors in the sanctions debate, although these were not often openly discussed. As some states eagerly anticipated the end of sanctions to establish lucrative trade deals with Iraq, others appeared to be more interested in maintaining sanctions to preserve the status quo, in particular, protecting Saudi Arabia's paramount position in the oil market.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Middle East

In June, Human Rights Watch published a report detailing the government's enactment and implementation of harsh punishments including amputation, branding, and the death penalty. Also, in June, after learning of a planned trip to Iraq by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, we sent a letter reminding the commissioner that his visit should not be seen as an alternative to Van der Stoel's blocked human rights investigations and urging him to press the government to allow the visit of the special representative.

In August, Human Rights Watch/Middle East conducted an investigative mission to meet with a wide segment of the Iraqi exile community in Amman, Jordan.

On the basis of evidence gathered from more than eighteen tons of seized government documents and two years of field research on Iraq's campaign of genocide against the Kurds, Human Rights Watch continued to pursue the goal of bringing a case for violations under the Genocide Convention against the Government of Iraq at the International Court of Justice.

This report covers the events of 1995

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