The Iraq Inquiry Report (2009-2016) documents how Tony Blair committed Great Britain to war early in 2002, lying to the United Nations, to Parliament, and to the British people, in order to follow George Bush, who had planned an aggression on Iraq well before September 2001.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard conspired with both reckless adventurers, purported ‘to advise’ both buccaneers, sent troops to Iraq before the war started, then lied to Parliament and to the Australian people. He continues to do so.
Should he and his cabal be charged with war crimes? This, and more, is investigated by Dr George Venturini in this outstanding series.
The bloody cost and legacy of the invasion (continued)
In 2005, to prevent more harm, calls had gone out for: 1) a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Fallujah, allowing unrestricted access for independent relief agencies such as the Red Crescent; 2) an independent investigation into violations of international law in Fallujah, as called for by Louise Arbour, then the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 16 November 2004; and 3) a campaign to deny any further supplemental budget requests which may, in fact, fund war crimes. (J. McDermott and R. Rapport, Investigate alleged violations of law in Fallujah attack, 10 January 2005).
Louise Arbour, CC GOQ is a distinguished Canadian lawyer, prosecutor and jurist. She was the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and would go on to become a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and the Court of Appeal for Ontario and a Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. From 2009 until 2014, she served as President and CEO of the International Crisis Group.
The High Commissioner was particularly worried over poor access by civilians still in the city to the delivery of humanitarian aid and about the lack of information regarding the number of civilians casualties. Commissioner Arbour was determined that all violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law be investigated and those responsible for breaches – including deliberate targeting of civilians, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks, the killing of injured persons and the use of human shields – must be brought to justice, be they members of the Multi-National Force – Iraq or others.
Reported incidents alleging violations of the rules of war include the shooting by a US marine of a wounded, unarmed Iraqi prisoner in a Fallujah mosque who was said to be pretending to be dead, now under investigation by the US military (J. Shawl, Military investigating possible Fallujah war crime by US Marine, Jurist, 16 November 2004).
Additionally, an Associated Press photographer who witnessed the siege of Fallujah reported seeing American soldiers shoot dead a family of five attempting to cross the Euphrates River in an attempt to flee the city.
Such actions – the Centre complained – “are in clear contravention of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and, in particular, of the Fourth Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.”
The Centre had information that more than 1,000 civilians escaped the conflict to the nearest unit, which belongs to al-Hashd al-Shaabi, the militia umbrella organisation (Popular Mobilisation Forces).
But, instead of being provided with support and assistance, these refugees were detained on the claim to allegedly belonging to I.S.I.S., in places where they had no access to food or water, where they were subjected to torture and other degrading and inhuman treatment, which resulted in about 200 deaths. Most of the dead bodies were reported to be burnt or thrown in the Euphrates.
Those who managed to be released, roughly 650 persons, carried signs and marks of torture on their bodies, and complained that the militias had been practicing all kinds of ill-treatments, including verbal and psychological abuse of sectarian connotation, and other forms of physical abuse. One hundred and fifty of them presented body fractures, such as broken legs and arms, and more than 100 showed signs of severe burns on their back and their chests. Many women had been separated from their families and harassed by the militias. According to the survivors a large number of persons were still missing.
On 27 May 2016 the Centre received documented proof that a militia organisation called Risaliyon, under command of the Iraqi parliament member Adnan Al Shahmani, slaughtered 17 civilians in the city of al-Karmah. Those were part of a 73 men group who were abducted after escaping from I.S.I.S. and then detained and taken to the Rashad area, north-east of al-Karmah. The fate of the remaining 56 persons of the group is unknown.
All of the atrocities committed by militias and some army units are part of a systematic policy of revenge which intentionally targets the population of these cities. In these regards, al-Hashd al-Shaabi has been reported to have bombed mosques on a pure sectarian basis. Such actions are classifiable as no less than war crimes and crimes against humanity and deeply contravene international law and human rights law.
The already fragile humanitarian situation has rapidly deteriorated following the attacks on Fallujah. Most displaced people who managed to escape the city and the vindictive fury of the militias have faced many challenges. So far at least 18 people have been reported to have died while they were trying to cross the Euphrates. Many others were living in degrading conditions. Such inadequate conditions were affecting mostly children and women, whose lives were day after increasingly at risk.
This was due to the failure of the Iraqi government to prepare the necessary assistance and shelter to displaced people before starting the campaign. Still, some humanitarian organisations managed to deliver some food and tents, but this had not ben enough to assist the thousands of displaced persons escaping Fallujah.
The Iraqi authorities – the Centre complained – were trying to convince the international public opinion that they were against the above-described militia violations, and claimed in multiple occasions that these were isolated cases of misbehaviour and promised that they would investigate such crimes and bring those responsible to justice. However, there had been no real effort or actual commitment to hold those responsible for the abuses accountable. Perpetrators not just enjoyed impunity, but also benefited from the full support of the government in what was now most clearly a systematic sectarian policy applied on a large-scale, especially directed against the Sunni members of the Iraqi society.
Prime Minister al-Abadi claimed he is committed to avoid casualties in Fallujah, nevertheless the incidents showed his lack of action to that end.
The atrocities committed against civilians were under everyone’s eyes and could not be more evident. Many prominent Iraqi figures had expressed their concerns and made appeals for the violations to stop.
Even those tribes which were participating in the fight against I.S.I.S. explicitly called on the Iraqi authorities to prevent the militias to take part in the conflict.
In light of the increasingly dramatic situation inside Fallujah and the surrounding areas, where innocent people were being killed by indiscriminate shelling at the hands of the Iraqi army and affiliated militias, and the so-called U.S.-led “International Coalition” – the Centre explained – it was urgent to call on the international community, and, in particular on the United Nations relevant bodies to take action and pressure the Iraqi authorities, as well as the U.S.-led Coalition, immediately to stop the indiscriminate bombing over the area.
The Centre expressed once again its strong opposition to terrorism. But, it observed, as indicated in previous press releases the adopted policies, not just in the country but in general across the globe, had only proved ruinous to civilians and their cities and have only resulted in the increase of terrorist activities.
Furthermore, due to the grave human rights violations inflicted by various militia organisations upon civilians, who still managed to escape the fighting, the Centre urgently called on the United Nations relevant bodies to do whatever is in their power to pressure Iraqi authorities immediately to stop supporting and cooperating with militias, and instead proceed to de-legitimise and disarm such criminal organisations. In addition, all those countries which have representation in Iraq should do whatever they can to de-legitimise these groups by immediately refraining from engaging with them.
The Geneva International Centre for Justice expressed its appreciation for the appeal made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the 7 June 2016 urging “the Iraqi Government to take immediate measures to ensure that all people fleeing the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)-occupied city of Fallujah are treated in strict accordance with international human rights and international humanitarian laws” (UN, News Centre, Civilians fleeing Fallujah ‘facing double jeopardy’ – UN rights chief, 7 June 2016) and considered this as an important step in the right direction. It was also convinced that more must be done to ensure that enough pressure is put on the Iraqi authorities to allow citizens still trapped in the city safely to escape the conflict. In addition, once they had managed to do so, a greater degree of humanitarian assistance, including water, food and shelter should be provided.
Finally, the Centre pressed the High Commissioner for Human Rights to demand that the Iraqi Government show its commitment to protecting civilians by fully investigating any violations of human rights. However, it was the view of the Centre that the Iraqi authorities could not be relied on in conducting this task as they were in fact complicit in the violations and had demonstrated too many times that they would not discontinue such practice. The Centre called therefore on the United Nations relevant bodies, and in particular the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to dispatch an independent mission of inquiry to investigate into all violations committed by the militias and the security forces which cooperated with them in extrajudicial, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance, and summary or arbitrary executions. (Escaping Fallujah: from one hell to the other- Geneva International, Geneva International Centre for Justice).
Tomorrow: The bloody cost and legacy of the invasion (continued)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini – ‘George’ devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. In 1975, invited by Attorney-General Lionel Keith Murphy, Q.C., he left a law chair in Chicago to join the Trade Practices Commission in Canberra – to serve the Whitlam Government. In time he witnessed the administration of a law of prohibition as a law of abuse, and documented it in Malpractice, antitrust as an Australian poshlost (Sydney 1980). He may be reached at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.