UN human rights chief says United Nations role in Iraq in Coalition’s interests

Sergio Vieira de Mello

14 April 2003 – The top United Nations human rights official said today it was in the interests of Coalition forces to carry out the post-war reconstruction of Iraq under a UN mandate and that in the meantime they had a duty to protect hospitals and humanitarian facilities there.

“If they go through the Security Council, they can then receive support not only from its members and the broader donor community, but also from international institutions such as the World Bank, and the IMF, that helped us in similar situations in the past,” UN Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello said in an interview on the Hard Talk programme of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).

“So, I see every interest for the Coalition to seek the legitimacy of the Security Council for the post-war effort,” he said.

Questioned about American statements that the United States would appoint the interim government and that the UN would not have a say on it, Mr. Vieira de Mello replied: “This is, I think, still being debated by several members of the Security Council. I don’t think we have reached that stage. And if I can express my opinion, to provide that interim Iraqi government with legitimacy, it had better go through the Security Council.”

Asked whether the parties to the conflict had met their humanitarian obligations in light of the civilian casualties and scenes of lawlessness, he said: “I think they have certainly tried and tried hard. But I need hardly tell you that when war reaches densely populated areas such as Baghdad, it is very difficult to avoid civilian casualties.”

He said the current chaos was “probably unavoidable after you’ve kept the lid on those people for so many years that in this environment of relative lawlessness that these events should take place. I mean, I think the top priority is to protect hospitals and humanitarian facilities.”

He agreed that such protection was the duty of an occupying power and, asked if the Coalition was carrying out this duty, he said: “Well, I think they are attempting, but I’m not sure they have enough troops.”

Pressed on whether the occupying powers had failed in their humanitarian duty and under the Geneva conventions, Mr. Vieira de Mello answered: “I think there is a temporary vacuum of law and order, particularly in Baghdad, and we are appealing to the occupying powers to assume fully those responsibilities.” He said he had been assured by the United States and the United Kingdom that their policy was to protect civilians in every possible circumstance.

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