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Assyrians at the United Nations

Posted: Friday, June 09, 2000 at 05:40 PM CT


COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS

Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities

48th Session Statement by Senator John Nimrod, Secretary General, Assyrian Universal Alliance (sponsored by the Transnational Radical Party) delivered to the Sub-Commission under item 6 on 8 August 1996 A Pathway to Human Rights for Northern Iraq

Mr. Chairman,

On behalf of the world`s over three million dispersed Assyrians, we wish to express our gratitude to the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities for the opportunity to give testimony about the human rights situation of those Assyrians who have managed to remain in their ancestral homeland, particularly in Mesopotamia. In summary, I am encouraged by the reports I have received from Syria and by the testimonies I have taken personally concerning Iran, and I believe that the time has come for important human rights developments in Iraq.

Let me begin by clarifying a few things. I am not talking about the inhabitants of Syria, even though the Assyrian Empire of some four thousand years ago did indeed embrace all of what is now modern Syria. Assyria was destroyed as a political system in 612 BC but not as a nation or as a race. However, there are definite and continuous traces of Assyrians throughout history since 612 BC. They were among the first to embrace Christianity in the first century AD, and as a consequence they have suffered persecution and massacres. During the First World War they were invited by Great Britain as an ally, helped win a desicive battle against the Ottoman Empire and were caused to lose two thirds of their nation in this war. The British had promised the Assyrians independence, autonomy and a home for all Assyrians. Instead the British mandate in Iraq was terminated and the Assyrians were released to the Iraqi Government with guarantees as a minority pursuant to the 1932 Declaration of the Kingdom of Iraq (reproduced in: E/CN. 4/Sub. 2/1992/NGO/27). Since then Iraq has failed to comply with the articles of its 1932 Declaration (see also: E/CN. 4/1995/NGO/52). This also meant that Iraq has ignored the land ownership and special rights and privileges that were accorded to the inhabitants of the Mosul Vilayet which, in 1925, were conditionally placed under the authority of the Kingdom of Iraq.

In Iraq we have a very unique situation which offers an opportunity to demonstrate to the World of Nations that we can do something about effectively providing human rights to minorities that are under the perview of your Sub-Commission. To be sure, the Government of Iraq cannot alone be blamed for the present denial of human rights to the minorities in Northern Iraq. Nevertheless, Iraq must be held fully accountable for the denial of human, religious, and linguistic rights to the Assyrians, Kurds and Turkoman, and other minorities residing in the rest of the country. Examples of violations affecting the Assyrian community are detailed by the Special Rapporteur on Iraq of the Commission on Human Rights (E/CN. 4/1992/31, p. 30, 31; E/CN. 4/1994/58, p. 33; E/CN. 4/1995/91).

The situation in Iraq is such that not only are the Assyrians politically discriminated against but they are also deprived of their freedom to practice their religion and preserve their idendity, culture and language. To the Assyrians which are the indigenous people of Iraq, religion and language are so intertwined that to supress either one will effectively mean the destruction of the Assyrian identity.

The events of 1991 have brought about some responsibilities to the Commission and Sub-Commission by the acts of the United Nations which, without questioning the integrity of the country of Iraq, provides for a Comfort Zone where the majority of inhabitants North of the 36th parallel are part of the minorities of Assyrians, Kurds and Turkoman.

The results of the efforts of the past few years speak for themselves: Three thousand killed or wounded. A continuous struggle for power through control of humanitarian aid being supplied to the divided Kurds "governing" the area. A population kept captive under Kurdish control. And elections which gave false hopes of an independent Kurdish Nation. Those members of the minorities which are not allied with either of the armed camps fear for their safety and for that of their family. They struggle to provide ways of earning a living and protect their property from each other while those in command do little or nothing to help.

Yet, the opportunities exist to effectively safeguard and promote human rights to all Assyrians, Kurds, Turkoman and others of Northern Iraq. To accomplish this it is in the hands of the Sub-Commission to call for corresponding steps to be taken by the appropriate United Nation bodies. Most urgently, the power to distribute humanitarian aid must not be left in the hands of those who no longer have the confidence of the people.

AN INTERIM CIVIL ADMINISTRATION, SUPPORTED MILITARILY BY THE ALLIES, MUST BE PUT INTO PLACE WITHOUT FURTHER DELAY, IN ORDER TO PROVIDE THE NECESSARY SERVICES AND ENSURE THE EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION OF HUMANITARIAN AID.

This administration must adequately reflect Middle East customs and traditions, and it must ensure freedom, liberty and justice for all. As such it would have to provide the necessary services and security, giving the local inhabitants the opportunity to effectively pursue the reconstruction of their villages and homes, and ensuring their civil, human, and property rights. The necessary financial means do not depend on further taxpayer money; they are already in hand and present no problem. Whatever the future holds, this process must provide a solution which is also acceptable for Iraq and the neighboring peoples and governments. For it must not become a source of regional instability, but rather one of stability, security and economic well being.


COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities

48th Session, item 6 Written statement, agreed to be submitted 8 August 1996 by the Transnational Radical Party (§), a non-governmental organization in consultative status (category II) "OIL-FOR-FOOD" vs. ASSYRIAN PROPERTY RIGHTS IN IRAQ (*)

  1. Six years of an effectively applied economic boycott could not fail to take its toll, even if its authors carefully sought to cushion the effects of the UN sanctions regime for the Iraqi population in that they exempted from the beginning food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies. These programs in favor of the Iraqi people (and the way they were handled) developed a dynamic of their own with some unforeseen consequences. The longer the sanctions lasted and produced ever graver effects on Iraq's inhabitants and social fabric, the more effective aid grew into a humanitarian, moral and political imperative. In light of the growing donor fatigue - due to the increasing needs created by natural and man-made disasters taxing the world community's relief resources - it was also indispensable to devise ways and means for financing these humanitarian aid programs for Iraq without reliance on already burdened foreign taxpayers.
  2. Accordingly, the United Nations Security Council adopted successively improved "oil-for-food" resolutions SCR 706, 712 and 986, providing notably for covering the external costs of related humanitarian aid programs (1). Thereby, an old and unsettled question, i. e. "Who owns Iraq's oil?", seems to have been overlooked, if not prejudiced without due process - at the expense of the "internationally protected" Assyrian (2), Kurdish, Turkoman and other landowners, and in favor of the Iraqi State. Alternatively, being alerted to this delicate legal problem by way of an internal UN memorandum dated April 1992, the authors of said resolutions seem to have not only recognized the pitfalls but left it to the courts to finally settle eventual claims. For SCR 986 provides immunity against seizure only while "petroleum or petroleum products", or proceeds from them, are "under Iraqi title", suggesting that the Iraqi State, in the event, would have to carry the burden of proof that it has good title for the petroleum resources located in Iraqi territory, i. e. that it obtained these rights with due process and in line with Iraq's international obligations.
  3. In 1932, when the League of Nations carved Iraq out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire, Iraq incurred permanently binding international minority protection obligations which were supposed to protect also the Assyrians. These freely accepted obligations cover not only such specific human rights as freedom of practicing the Assyrian's Christian beliefs, language privileges and preferential employment stipulations but, most importantly, the obligation of the Iraqi State to respect the land ownership and other private property as it existed prior to Iraq's independence (3). Some of these rights and special privileges concern in particular the Northern part of Iraq, called the Mosul Vilayet which was conditionally attached to the Kingdom of Iraq in 1925 (4). Iraq thus incurred international obligations which it could not alter unilaterally, and from which it could be relieved only by the League of Nations or, in the event, by the United Nations acting as the League's succesor in accordance with UN General Assembly resolution 24 (I) of 12 February 1946.
  4. The conditions under which Iraq obtained its independence have never been altered. The circumstances which gave rise to these international minority protection and other conditions have essentially remained. According to testimony published by the UN Human Rights Commission's Special Rapporteur on Iraq, past and present human rights conditions in Iraq have provided no justification for abrogating any of Iraq's related international obligations (e. g. E/CN. 4/1993/45, §§89-126; E/CN. 4/1995/138, p. 8). Iraq's constitutive international obligations, too have thus remained fully binding (E/CN. 4/367/Add. 1), in as much as the ruling on South-West Africa, handed down by the International Court of Justice, by analogy, applies to Iraq:

"These obligations represent the very essence of the sacred trust of civilization. Their raison d'être and original object remain. Since their fulfilment do not depend on the existence of the League of Nations, they could not be brought to an end merely because this supervisory organ [i. e. the Council of the League of Nations] ceased to exist. Nor could the right of the population to have the Territory administered in accordance with these rules depend thereon. " (ICJ Reports, 1950, p. 133).

5. In the above-mentioned internal UN memorandum of April 1992, these legal elements are summed up as follows:

With regard to the oil ownership question, these documents provide a prima facie ownership case in favor of some Turkish citizens and Kurdish tribes in whose ancestral lands the largest oil field, in Kirkuk, is situated. Accordingly, the seizure protection wording of Resolution 712, paragraph 5, may not stand in a tribunal. It is thus advisable to execute Resolutions 706 and 712 either exclusively on the basis of oil pumped from uncontested Iraqi fields not in the Mosul Vilayet area or on the basis of corresponding agreements with the Turkish Government and the involved Kurdish tribes. "

6. In addition to the Turkish and Kurdish landowners, the Assyrian community - whose diaspora has a strong foothold in the American economic and political scene - is known to have also significant land claims not only in the Mosul Vilayet but all over Iraq. In this light, serious legal challenges to the UN's "oil-for-food" program are conceivable. Those UN departments which are financially dependent on a smooth implementation and operation of SCR 986 no less than those concerned about the humanitarian fate of the people in either the government- or the Kurdish-controlled part of Iraq would thus be well advised to prepare for alternative solutions. This seems to be the more indicated as SCR 986 can be seen:

  1. as a new source of economic and political power, and thus as a direct cause for further infighting between those who have essentially lost the confidence of the people yet continue to be supported by outside forces for "governing" Iraq's non-government-controlled Northern Governorates;
  2. as a bailout of the cash-short United Nations;
  3. as a formal UN-sponsored transfer of title to the Mosul Vilayet's oil resources from the present, internationally protected Assyrian, Kurdish and Turkoman landowners to the Iraqi State without consultation, compensation or due process; and
  4. as being incompatible with the U. S. Constitution in as much as it would deprive U. S. citizens to seek protection for their property rights from a U. S. Court.
  5. In contrast, if the landownership rights in the Mosul Vilayet in particular would be respected by all concerned, significant opportunities for effectively safeguarding and promoting human rights in the Mosul Vilayet and beyond could quickly be turned into reality. Inspired by the positive experiences made by the United Nations with interim administrations in Cambodia, Eastern Slavonia and elsewhere, corresponding steps are called for to be taken in- and outside of the UN System by the appropriate bodies (E/CN. 4/1994/NGO/48; E/CN. 4/1995/NGO/52).
  6. Most urgently, the power to distribute humanitarian aid must not be left in the hands of those who no longer have the confidence of the people. In order to provide the necessary de-mining, rebuilding and other services, including the equitable distribution of humanitarian aid, it has become indispensable to replace the present power structure in the Mosul Vilayet with an interim administration which is to be militarily supported by the Allies and which is also acceptable for the neighboring peoples and governments.
  7. This sanctions-free and self-financed interim administration must adaquately reflect Middle East customs and traditions, and it must ensure freedom, liberty and justice for all. As such, it would have to provide the necessary services and security, giving the local inhabitants the opportunity to effectively pursue the reconstruction of their villages, churches and homes, and ensuring their civil, human, and property rights. Authorized to develop the local resources and to trade freely, the necessary financial means would no longer depend on ever scarcer taxpayer money. Thus, these resources could finally become a source of regional stability, security and economic well-being. * * *

NOTES

(§) Like the preceding Written Statement "A European Solution to Turkey's Minority Problems" (submitted to the Sub-Commission on 11 August 1995 by another NGO in consultative status with ECOSOC, i. e. the International Committee for European Security and Cooperation), this paper, on grounds which have not been clarified, has yet to be published by the UN Secretariat. Curiously, the editor of these and the other preceding Written Statements (published by the UN), while attending the March 1996 session of the Commission on Human Rights as duly accredited Representative of a third ECOSOC NGO, i. e. the Germany-based World Society of Victimology, was prevented from exercising his functions at the UN in Geneva by an administrative ukase, without due process and in violation of ECOSOC Resolution 1296 (XLIV). This suggests precedent-setting illegal interferences with the work of the United Nations by influential third parties.

(*) prepared in cooperation with John Nimrod, Secretary-General, Assyrian Universal Alliance (7055 North Clark Street, Chicago, Il. 60626, U. S. A. ; t:1773-2749262, f: 1773-2745866) and the CORUM Research Group (box 2580, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland, f:4122-7338671).

(1) in addition to various UN administrative costs and compensation payments for damages incurred in the course of Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.

(2) Assyria is not to be confounded with Syria, even though the Assyrian Empire of some 4000 years ago did indeed embrace all of what is now modern Syria - and much more. Assyria was destroyed as a political system in 612 BC but not as a nation, not as a race and not as a language. However, there are definite and continuous traces of Assyrians throughout history since 612 BC. They were among the first to embrace Christianity in the first century AD, and as a consequence they have suffered persecution and massacres. During the First World War they were invited by Great Britain as an ally, helped win a decisive battle against the Ottoman Empire and were caused to lose two thirds of their population in that war. The British had promised the Assyrians independence, autonomy and a home for all Assyrians. Instead the British mandate in Iraq was terminated and the Assyrians were released to the Iraqi Government, covered by the international minority protection guarantees written into the Declaration of the Kingdom of Iraq of 30 May 1932. Since then Iraq has failed to comply with most articles of its still binding 1932 Declaration (see also: E/CN. 4/1995/NGO/52). In particular, Iraq has violated article 14 (covering land ownership rights), and it ignored special rights and privileges that were accorded to the inhabitants of the Mosul Vilayet which, in 1925, were placed under the conditional and limited authority of the Kingdom of Iraq.

(3) Declaration of the Kingdom of Iraq of 30 May 1932, article 14 (E/CN. 4/Sub. 2/1992/NGO/27).

(4) To the South, the Mosul Vilayet borders on Iraq's Baghdad Vilayet, to the West on Syria, to the North on Turkey and to the East on Iran. It includes the Diala District, as defined in the League of Nations inquiry of 1925. According to the last available census (1920), its surface is 91009 km2, and its inhabitants were 579713 Sunnites, 22180 Shiites, 14835 Jews and 55470 Christians, i. e. mostly Assyrians (Report by HM's Government to the League Council on the Administration of Iraq for the year 1929, p. 71).



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