Iraq's Human-Rights Toll

Violations should spur an international effort to protect rights

THE United Nations Security Council's recent denunciation of Iraqi human-rights violations is neither effective nor enough. What is needed from the UN and from the world community are not political denunciations, but permanent, impartial, and effective means to protect human rights, without distinction as to perpetrators or victims. A permanent international commission of inquiry should immediately be formed to investigate all human-rights violations - particularly cases of Iraqi policies and practices that violate the most elementary norms of human decency. These include: murder, torture, beating, physically and psychologically degrading treatment, pillage, robbery, theft, arbitrary arrest, detention, and expulsion.

These practices are carried out by Iraqi military and police personnel and even by civilians. They are directed mostly against other Arabs (primarily those whose countries are aligned with the US). Non-Arabs, though held as hostages in Iraq and Kuwait, are, from available accounts, treated fairly well.

Regrettably, the media has not sufficiently highlighted Iraq's abuse of its Arab brethren, seldom reporting the horrible, daily atrocities in Kuwait and Iraq. There has, of course, been extraordinary coverage of Western hostages who have not been treated with anything remotely resembling the savagery and harshness of Iraqi treatment of Arabs. For example:

Estimates put the murder toll of Kuwaiti civilians close to 1,000. Their bodies - not returned to their families - are reportedly buried in unmarked graves.

Torture and physical mistreatment of Kuwaitis is reported as particularly brutal. Reported incidents include babies taken out of incubators and left to die so that the equipment can be sent to Baghdad; rape of women and men (particularly Asian workers); random and wholesale beating and degrading treatment of Kuwaiti men during interrogation.

Widespread pillage not only of public property, but also of private Kuwaiti homes, stores, businesses, and industrial property.

More than 1,000 Egyptians who lived in Iraq have been murdered, and the killing continues. Since Aug. 3, an average of three caskets per day reach Cairo. Baghdad's accompanying death certificates usually state the cause of death as accidental. Most bodies, however, reveal gunshots, multiple fractures, and other marks indicating physical mistreatment.

More than 1 million Arabs and non-Arabs are estimated to have left or been forced to leave Kuwait and Iraq, their money, property, and personal possessions taken from them. Among them are an estimated 700,000 Jordanians, Palestinians, and Egyptians.

All these acts are clear violations of international law.

They are specifically prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention of Aug. 12, 1949, which the Iraqi military is familiar with since the conventions are taught in their military academy and were invoked during the eight-year war with Iran. In addition, the 1979 Convention on the Taking of Hostages, the 1984 Convention Against Torture, the 1966 International Covenant for the Protection of Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Charter all prohibit Iraq's actions.

Moreover, the protections established in these international instruments also are contained in the Sharia (Islamic Law). The Koran and the Sunna (deeds and sayings of the Prophet), which are the two principal sources of Islamic law, unequivocally prohibit such conduct.

Iraqi soldiers, officers in charge, and commanding officers, including Saddam Hussein, cannot claim ignorance that international and Islamic law prohibit this type of conduct. Those who commit these violations, order them, fail to prevent them, or fail to punish the perpetrators are criminally responsible.

Allegations and estimates are not, however, sufficient to bring charges for human-rights violations. Ascertainable facts are needed. The UN should set up an impartial international commission of inquiry to interview victims and witnesses, correlate data, and prepare dossiers on individual cases.

But the work of such a commission should begin quickly, before witnesses become unavailable or their recollection fades.

Recently, the Security Council resolved to establish an ad hoc commission to investigate Israel's killing of some 20 Palestinians at Jerusalem's Temple Mount. Appropriate as that is, no one who views human rights as universal can fail to note that the same measure was not resolved for Iraqi violations - or, for that matter, for other more serious ones. Lest one forgets, 1.5 million people have been killed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, with muted condemnation by powers quick to condemn Israel and now Iraq. We must not have different scales to weigh human-rights violations, scales dependent upon who the violator or the victim may be.

The tragic incidents in the Middle East can be an opportunity to enhance human-rights protections by serving as an impetus to the establishment of an impartial, permanent fact-finding commission. The time has come to do something more than express selective verbal condemnations.

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