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Amnesty International, Annual Report 2000 on Iraq
by Amnesty International
Posted: Wednesday, June 14, 2000 11:34 am CST

Republic of Iraq
Head of state and government: Saddam Hussain Capital: Baghdad
Population: 22.2 million
Official language: Arabic
Death penalty: retentionist

Violent clashes between the security forces and armed Islamist activists in the predominantly Shi'a south were frequently reported, especially following the killing in suspicious circumstances on 19 February of Ayatollah Sadeq al-Sadr, a prominent Shi'a cleric. Dozens of people from both sides were killed. Hundreds of people, including political prisoners and possible prisoners of conscience, were executed and large-scale arbitrary arrests of suspected political opponents took place. Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners and detainees were widely reported. Hundreds of non-Arab families, mostly Kurds, were forcibly expelled from their homes in the Kirkuk area to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraq continued to be subjected to stringent economic sanctions imposed by UN Security Council resolutions after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The sanctions have crippled the country's economic infrastructure and have contributed to a deteriorating economic situation, increased unemployment, rising malnutrition and mortality levels and widespread corruption. In 1999, UNICEF estimated that sanctions had contributed to the deaths of some 500,000 children under the age of five.

In January the UN Security Council established three separate panels on Iraq: the first to examine disarmament and verification issues; the second to assess the humanitarian situation; and the third to investigate the issue of Kuwaiti prisoners of war and Kuwaiti property. The three panels submitted their recommendations two months later. The humanitarian panel recommended the raising of the ceiling on oil sales to create additional revenue, more humanitarian assistance and better distribution of humanitarian supplies to meet pressing humanitarian needs in Iraq. It also recommended that the Iraqi government facilitate the timely distribution of humanitarian goods and address the needs of vulnerable groups.

After months of negotiations, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1284 in December. This resolution established a new arms inspection body, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), and raised the possibility of the lifting of sanctions if the government of Iraq allowed arms inspections to start again. The resolution also included some provisions intended to ease the humanitarian impact of the sanctions. However, divisions in the Security Council and Iraq's stated refusal to cooperate with the arms monitoring program left much uncertainty as to the likelihood of any improvement.

In August 'Ezzat Ibrahim al-Duri, Vice-Chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council, the highest executive body in the country, went to Austria for medical treatment. While he was in hospital a Vienna city councillor filed a complaint against him with the Vienna courts, accusing him of being responsible for the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and personally taking part in attacks on Kurds and of committing other atrocities, including torture. A few days later 'Ezzat Ibrahim al-Duri left Austria, reportedly before completing his treatment and despite calls on the Austrian government by the USA, Iraqi opposition groups and human rights groups to investigate or indict him. In September AI received a communication from the Iraqi authorities about the Amnesty International Report 1999, which failed to allay AI's concerns.

CIVILIANS KILLED IN US AND UK AIR ATTACKS Since the four-day air strikes launched by US and United Kingdom (UK) forces in December 1998, these forces had been carrying out regular strikes on Iraqi targets inside the two air exclusion zones in northern and southern Iraq. These zones, north of the 36th parallel and south of the 33rd parallel, were imposed by allied forces at the end of the Gulf war and were intended to protect Iraq's Kurdish and Shi'a Muslim population. The strikes reportedly resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilians and left many more injured. US military officials often accused Iraq of stationing military equipment near civilian population centres.

  • On 30 April a shepherd and six members of his family were killed in their tent in Mosul in the north. A UN humanitarian official who visited the area confirmed the killings.

AI issued worldwide appeals expressing concern about the continuing loss of civilian lives as a result of these air strikes. The organization received responses from UK and US government officials stating that their forces had been acting in self-defence and were making great efforts to avoid civilian casualties. However, the responses did not give any indication as to what steps were being taken to avoid civilian loss of life, although in October US military officials publicly stated that US warplanes were using concrete-filled bombs instead of explosives in attacks on northern Iraq to "minimize the chances of damage to people and property around military targets".

The death penalty continued to be used extensively. Hundreds of people, including possible prisoners of conscience, were executed during 1999. In many cases it was impossible to determine whether the reported executions were judicial or extrajudicial, given the secrecy surrounding them. Most of the victims were Shi'a Muslims suspected of anti-government activities. Also among those executed were a number of senior army officers suspected of having links with the Iraqi opposition outside the country or plotting to overthrow the government.

  • In March a 36-year-old army officer in the Special Forces, Mohammad Jabbar al-Rubay'i, was executed. He had reportedly been detained in the Military Intelligence Prison for about two years. His body was handed over to his family for burial but without any religious ceremony. He had allegedly been accused of planning to flee the country.
  • At least 100 people were executed in Abu Ghraib Prison on 12 October 1999. They included 19 political detainees, among them the writer Hamid al-Mukhtar. He had been held for several months after the assassination of Ayatollah al-Sadr in February. He reportedly decided to organize a religious ceremony in his house to commemorate Ayatollah al-Sadr's death. The security forces stormed his house and arrested him and his son. The son was reportedly tortured and released. Hamid al-Mukhtar was executed.

Torture and ill-treatment were used systematically against detainees in prisons and detention centres despite its prohibition under the Iraqi Constitution. Political detainees were subjected to severe torture. The most common methods of physical and psychological torture included electric shocks to various parts of the body, pulling out of fingernails, long periods of suspension by the limbs, beating with cables, falaqa (beating on the soles of the feet), cigarette burns, piercing of hands with an electric drill, mock executions and threats of bringing in a female relative of the detainee, especially the wife or the mother, and raping her in front of the detainee. * A 59-year-old doctor was arrested in her clinic in June on suspicion that she had contacts with an Iraqi opposition group, an accusation she strongly denied. She was held incommunicado for a month during which she was tortured. During the first few days she was forced to lie down on the floor and was beaten with a cable on the soles of her feet (falaqa) by a hooded man. She lost consciousness on several occasions. She escaped by bribing a prison officer and fled the country.

Reports of widespread arbitrary arrests of suspected political opponents, including possible prisoners of conscience, continued throughout 1999. Most of those arrested were Shi'a Muslims suspected of having links with underground Islamist armed groups or simply relatives of people sought by the authorities.Thousands of suspected political opponents arrested in previous years continued to be held at the end of 1999. Generally it was not possible to obtain information on the detainees' fate and whereabouts, because of both the government's control of information and the fear of reprisals. In some cases those arrested were later executed and there was no information as to whether they had been tried and convicted or simply extrajudicially executed.

  • In January and February, before the assassination of Ayatollah al-Sadr on 19 February, a number of his closest associates were arrested in southern Iraq and in Baghdad; their whereabouts remained unknown at the end of 1999. Among them were al-Shaikh Awus al-Khaffaji, an Imam in al-Nassirya, and al-Shaikh 'As'ad al-Nassiri, a religious scholar in al-Najaf.
  • Dr Hashem Hassan, a lecturer in journalism at the University of Baghdad, was arrested at the beginning of October and his whereabouts remained unknown at the end of 1999. He was reportedly on his way to Jordan when he was arrested on the Iraqi side of the border by plainclothes security men. Dr Hassan had written numerous articles in newspapers. Before his arrest he had reportedly been stripped of his membership of both the Iraqi Journalists' Union and the Iraqi Writers' Union because he had criticized government policies in his writing.

Since 1997 the human rights situation in Iraqi Kurdistan had gradually improved. A cease-fire declared in 1997 brought an end to large-scale abuses by the ruling parties, their militias and security forces. However, isolated cases of human rights abuses continued to be reported in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1999. These included arbitrary arrests and political killings. The fate of scores of political prisoners and people who had "disappeared" in previous years remained unknown.

The cease-fire declared at the end of 1997 between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) remained in force during 1999. Further talks between the PUK and KDP were held during 1999 on the implementation of a peace agreement signed in Washington, USA, in September 1998, which included a commitment to elections in areas controlled by the two groups. In October the two parties agreed to exchange all remaining prisoners and to open offices in each other's territories.

  • In February, two Iranian opposition members, Mehdi Satter-Aloyoub and his brother Massoud Satter-Aloyoub, were arrested in Sulaymania by PUK security forces, a few days after fleeing Iran. They were accused by the PUK of entering Iraqi Kurdistan illegally and attempting to join the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran, based in Baghdad. At the end of 1999 they were reportedly still held without trial in Sulaymania General Security Directorate.
  • In October Nabil Khalil Karim, a trade unionist sought by the Iraqi security authorities for suspected anti-government activities, fled from Baghdad. On arriving in Arbil he was arrested, reportedly by the KDP security forces, and his whereabouts remained unknown at the end of 1999.

AI received reports of politically motivated killings during 1999. Armed Islamist activists were reported to have committed some of the killings. Most of those targeted were reported to be secularists, including well-known communist figures. Death threats and harassment, reportedly by Islamist groups, against women members of women's organizations and communist groups continued to be reported.

  • In April Nicholas Sleight, a New Zealand national and UN mine-clearance worker, was killed by an unidentified gunman near the UN compound of Ain Kawa in Arbil. In May the KDP informed AI that an investigation was under way, the results of which would be made public.
  • In October Farhad Faraj Amin, a member of the Central Committee of the Organization of Communist Revolutionaries, an opposition group, was shot and killed at his home in Sulaymania by unidentified armed men.
  • In July the KDP informed AI that judicial investigations were still continuing into the killing of two Assyrian women, Nasreen Hina Shaba and her daughter Larsa Tuma, whose house was bombed in December 1998. According to the KDP, investigations were also continuing into several other attacks on Christian families in Arbil as well as the killing of two Iraqi Workers' Communist Party members in April 1998.

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