Iraq: Interview with minister of human rights Abd al-Basit Turki
QUESTION: Are you working on the issue of Iraqis detained by US troops?
ANSWER: Yesterday [Sunday] I met with Mr [Paul] Bremer [head of the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority running Iraq] and suggested we form a committee to discuss this issue. There's a rumour that there have been human rights violations against the detainees. Under the political circumstances, we have to deal with another approach to the detainees.
Q: Since the Red Cross left, have you taken over the job of checking the conditions of the estimated 5,000 Iraqis in jail or detained at the moment?
A: In the last few months, there was only one channel to meet the detainees, and that was through the Red Cross. Since they left, I asked to meet with the detainees. This is an important issue of my ministry, but it will also present a good image to the population. I hope this will have a positive response from Mr Bremer. I'm supposed to find out soon.
Q: What will you do if you visit them?
A: There are practical details to this issue. There are a great number of detainees being held under different kinds of rules. It's not possible to get them released all at once, so this needs more discussion. Bremer has promised us that we can see the conditions of the detainees, even though the situation is different for different groups.
Q: What are the different kinds of detainees?
A: There are two kinds of detainees -- one kind is impossible to reach, because they are [on] the 'List of 55" [created by US troops and put on playing cards] or are on a blacklist. We don't know how many of them there are, but we think there are roughly 300 people in this group.
The second type of detainees are people taken to jail since the situation has not settled down. There are about 5,000, according to a list from the Coalition Provisional Authority. We found out this information from asking the Coalition Provisional Authority.
Q: Where are these people all being held?
A: Actually, there's no regular prison for these people. Personally, I hope in the future there will be no prisons in my country. But the people in the prison right now, their rights are not guaranteed, according to information we got from some lawyers. This issue is still under discussion.
Q: If there are violations of the Geneva Conventions, what are they?
A: Before the explosion happened at the [International Committee of the] Red Cross, they made contact with us to show us reports made by the Red Cross in Geneva. I have some specific examples of violations, but the behaviour, in general, should be monitored by the Geneva Conventions. I think this issue will be discussed. Some of the issues are technical and not political.
For example, the first time a person is arrested, he gives the wrong name, or he tells the people booking him to write it in the wrong way [under the Geneva Conventions, the family must be notified that a person is in custody, one of the most common complaints of Iraq relatives of detainees in recent months]. This causes a difficult situation.
Also, services provided to the detainees can cause problems. And the capacity at Abu Ghurayb [one of Saddam's most notorious prisons, which has been rehabilitated recently] is not large enough, so prisoners are sleeping in tents.
Q: How did you get chosen to do your job?
A: I worked in the finance ministry before. So I discussed this with the [Iraqi] Governing Council [the US-appointed transitional government], because this ministry is attached to nongovernmental organisations. I was chosen for another position, but what do you do? I have a background in the ministry of finance.
Because of the nature of the former regime, there was a lack of human rights. Now, we're only one organisation, and to a certain extent, we're not able to stand up against the former regime. That's why civil establishments right now are torn apart in Iraq. Some are still controlled by the former regime.
Q: What do you mean when you say members of the former regime are controlling the ministries?
A: Naturally they are, because the former regime warned people not to get involved. You know, if you take a political position, that's the problem, not if you're a technocrat. But if those people committed any crimes, they should be judged.
Q: How are you publicising your ministry, since it's new, and human rights are in many ways a new concept for Iraq?
A: I will meet the civilian organisations. We hope to issue a programme of human rights for the Iraqi people. We asked organisations to sign what we would consider a social contract. We give more importance to this than anything else. But we think dialogue is also the main negotiation in societies. There must be committees operating inside of the Governing Council and outside. We want all sides to be represented.
Q: What's happening with human rights training for the police?
A: We made an agreement with the United Nations Development Programme to establish a training centre for human rights, including training for members of nongovernmental groups and others dealing with human rights. Another programme we made is to train police and judges. Our offices will provide services in the same area of human rights.
We work as an independent ministry, so there's no need for us to contact the minister of interior [who heads up the police] We expect to spend US $7 million on this new training centre. Next month, we will transfer to the new building. At the centre, there will be a hall for the nongovernmental groups who are available in different governorates.
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