Lawyers Committee supports U.N. human rights monitors for Iraq

New York - Human rights must be at the centre of any transitional framework for the government of post-war Iraq, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights said today.
"In order to ensure respect for basic rights throughout Iraq in the coming weeks and months, effective, independent monitoring of the human rights situation must form a central element of any transitional arrangement," said Neil Hicks, the director of the Lawyers Committee's Special Initiative on the Middle East.

The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights endorses the calls made by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Iraq, Mr. Andreas Mavrommatis, for the insertion of independent human rights observers into the country, with a mandate to assess compliance with international standards of human rights and humanitarian law by all persons and groups.

Human rights defenders have an essential role to play in systematically and objectively monitoring human rights conditions, and in demanding accountability from government and other responsible officials. Their activities can help to deter further violations of international law, and can contribute to de-escalating conflict by building confidence that those engaged in or inciting violations will be observed and held accountable.

Monitoring of compliance with international human rights norms should be integral to measures to restore law and order throughout Iraq, in compliance with the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, the 1907 Hague Regulations and other provisions of customary international law.

Such monitoring can also help guide measures to meet obligations to ensure the equitable provision of emergency food and medical supplies, clothing and shelter, the maintenance of medical facilities, the facilitation of the care and education of children, and to rebuild a fair and impartial criminal justice system.

Human rights monitoring in Iraq cannot be done effectively in an ad hoc manner, nor should the responsibility for such monitoring be left to overburdened humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organisations. Rather, a human rights monitoring component must be an integral part of whatever transitional structures are established for the country. So that its work is seen to be credible and impartial, this monitoring component must be independent of any occupying military forces, of political factions within Iraq and of any emerging Iraqi political administration.

The appropriate body for such an independent monitoring body to report to is the United Nations. The U.N. has been monitoring human rights conditions in Iraq since 1991 through the work of a Special Rapporteur. U.N. human rights bodies have overseen the near universal adoption of binding international human rights treaties by governments around the world, including by the United States, which must serve as the yardstick for human rights practices in the new Iraq. In order to carry out this duty, the international body must be given the necessary financial resources to hire and deploy appropriately qualified individuals.

The Lawyers Committee therefore calls upon the U.S. and all other governments engaged in discussions on the future of Iraq, including especially those of Australia, the U.K. and Poland to demonstrate their commitment to respect the basic rights of the Iraqi people, by:

  • creating transitional administrative structures that promote respect for human rights;
  • working closely with the U.N., especially with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, to establish an effective, independent human rights monitoring presence in the country.