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Rights and legality of Iraq war

Suhas Chakma

At the ongoing 60th session, the UN Commission on Human Rights is scheduled to consider the agenda items relating to the right of peoples to self-determination and its application to peoples under colonial or alien domination or foreign occupation; racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination; the right to development; and the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world. The CHR will review the reports of country rapporteurs and Secretary General on the occupied Arab territories of Palestine and Syrian Golan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Turkmenistan, Myanmar, Cuba, Belarus, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Iraq.

The right of self-determination is cornerstone of UN human rights instruments and is recognised under common Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. However, as many decolonised African and Asian countries increasingly faced demand for the right to self-determination, it became a taboo within the UN system. Governments across the region equate the right to self-determination with so-called terrorist activities and use self-defence to justify serious human rights violations.

The occupation of Palestinian territories has become an issue of the Arab League. This is despite the fact that a sizeable number of populations amongst the Palestinians are Christian. While this sojourn of Palestinian movement would make an excellent academic study, the increasing violence in West Asia as a direct consequence of the continued occupation of the Arab-territories played its role to make the occupation of Palestinian an issue of the Arab League.

Israel justifies its actions, which results in gross human rights violations in the Occupied Palestine Territories on the grounds of self-defence and portrays them as anti-terrorism measures. While Israel has legitimate security concerns, its measures fail to conform to international human rights standards.

Israel even justifies the construction of the Wall, separating Israel from the West Bank, on grounds of self-defence. This despite the fact that the Wall does not follow the green line, which marks the de facto boundary between Israel and Palestine and over 210,000 Palestinians will be seriously affected. As the Special Rapporteur on Palestine states, "Annexation of this kind, is prohibited by the Charter of the UN and the Fourth Geneva Convention." Yet, the US like each year will support the Israeli conquest of the Palestinian territories. At the same time it must be noted that the CHR resolution at the 59th session (2003/6), while rightly condemning Israel, failed to denounce killings of the Israeli civilians by the Palestinian suicide bombers.

The invasion of Iraq by the US and UK was also justified in the name of self-defence of the US and the invasion was both pre-emptive and punitive. After the fall of Saddam's regime, Iraq has been ruled without a constitution. While suicide bombings by the armed opposition groups opposed to the occupation have deflected attention from human rights violations by the military forces of the occupying powers, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have extensively reported about serious human rights violations by the occupying powers.

In Baghdad alone between May 1 and September 30, 2003, Human Rights Watch documented the deaths of 20 Iraqi civilians in questionable circumstances and collected information concerning 94 civilians killed by US in circumstances that merited investigations. In the five investigations that the US said it had completed, four concluded that soldiers had operated within official rules of engagement. But the US troops took hostages, a breach of the Geneva Conventions. At present, human rights violations are not covered by any Penal Code.

The CHR in its resolution (2003/84) did not recognise the legality of war and urged "all parties to the conflict in Iraq to abide strictly by their obligations under humanitarian law, in particular the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Regulations including those relating to the essential civilian needs of the people of Iraq". At the 60th session, the CHR resolution should call upon occupying powers and interim government to establish accountability for human rights violations, to try Saddam in an international tribunal.


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