UN expert highlights need for sustained action to promote human rights in Iraq

1 April 2003 –

The United Nations, especially its human rights entities, owe it to the Iraqi people to help them in the healing process, tackle urgent humanitarian issues, and protect the supreme right to life in the face of war, the UN expert on the country's human rights situation said today.

In opening the annual debate on the situation of human rights in Iraq in the UN Commission on Human Rights, Special Rapporteur Andreas Mavrommatis stressed that since "war, with all its horrors" had begun, there is now an "imperative necessity" for continued action to promote human rights in Iraq, and eventually, to ensure the effective application of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights for the future.

"This presupposes an adequate UN human rights presence in Iraq which, in cooperation with the authorities, could assist in the gradual attainment of full compliance with international human rights norms," said Mr. Mavrommatis. While it might seem inappropriate to talk about the future while people are being killed, he added, it was crucial to redouble UN efforts to secure the fundamental freedoms of the Iraqi people.

"Our thoughts are with Iraqi civilians, especially innocent women and children who have already suffered so much in the past," the Rapporteur said, stressing that the international community now expected the war to end at the "soonest and that events such as the carnage in the market place of Baghdad would not occur again."

Emphasizing that respect for the right to life enjoined combatants to abort the process when the targeting of "assets" entails foreseeable risks to civilians, Mr. Mavrommatis echoed Secretary-General Kofi Annan's call that parties should scrupulously observe international humanitarian law and shield the civilian population from the consequences of war.

Although the events in Iraq forced him to postpone his second substantive visit to Iraq, Mr. Mavrommatis said he would continue dealing with information regarding serious allegations of human rights violations, including assisting in the process of tracing and accounting for Kuwaiti prisoners of war and missing persons, other missing persons including Iraqis, and the issue of people expelled or forced to relocate.

He reiterated his determination to deal with all human rights questions in full cooperation with the authorities, without prejudging any issue, and with the main intention being to ensure the enjoyment of human rights by all the Iraqi people without fear, favour or discrimination.

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