I am older than the Geneva Conventions. And that shocks you only if you have not paid attention when I have explained "I'm old!"
The Geneva Conventions are sixty years old today. I think they were a gift for all of us and a much needed one at that.
The International Committee of the Red Cross' Jakob Kellenberger delivered this speech today:
Ladies and gentlemen,
We gather here to mark a significant coming of age. Sixty years ago today, the Geneva Conventions were adopted. This defining event played a central role in expanding the protection provided to victims of armed conflicts. It also expanded the ICRC's humanitarian mandate, and facilitated our access as well as our dialogue with States.
It would be natural, on this date, to reflect with a certain pride and satisfaction on the achievements and successes over the decades, and to allow at least a modest degree of self-congratulation. It cannot be denied that much more attention is paid to situations where the rules are violated than to the many situations where their respect is ensured.
At the same time, this anniversary is an opportunity to anticipate the next decade and beyond, ensuring that the Geneva Conventions are well-prepared for the increasing challenges and risks that still lie ahead. Without a doubt, the journey so far has not always been plain sailing. The extent to which armed conflict has evolved over the past 60 years cannot be underestimated. It almost goes without saying that contemporary warfare rarely consists of two well-structured armies facing each other on a geographically defined battlefield.
As lines have become increasingly blurred between various armed groups and between combatants and civilians, it is civilian men, women and children who have increasingly become the main victims. International humanitarian law, IHL, has necessarily adapted to this changing reality. The adoption of the first two Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions in 1977, with the rules they established on the conduct of hostilities and on the protection of persons affected by non-international armed conflict, is just one example.
Specific rules prohibiting or regulating weapons such as anti-personnel mines and, more recently, cluster munitions are another example of the adaptability of IHL to the realities on the ground.
The traumatic events of 9/11 and its aftermath set a new test for IHL. The polarisation of international relations and the humanitarian consequences of what has been referred to as the "global war on terror" have posed a huge challenge.
The proliferation and fragmentation of non-state armed groups, and the fact that some of them reject the premises of IHL, have posed another. These challenges effectively exposed IHL to some rigorous cross-examination by a wide range of actors, including the ICRC, to see if it really does still stand as an adequate legal framework for the protection of victims of armed conflict.
In short, the result of this sometimes arduous process was a resounding reaffirmation of the relevance and adequacy of IHL in preserving human life and dignity in armed conflict. However, as I made clear at the outset, this is no time to rest on our laurels. The nature of armed conflict, and of the causes and consequences of such conflict, is continuing to evolve. IHL must evolve too. The priority for the ICRC now is to anticipate and prepare for the main challenges to IHL in the years ahead. While these challenges have a legal and often a political dimension, I must stress that our ultimate concern is purely humanitarian; our only motivation is to contribute to achieving better protection for the victims of armed conflict.
I shall refer to some of these challenges and consider some ways in which they might be addressed, including what and how the ICRC, for its part, stands ready to contribute in terms of guidance and advice. It almost goes without saying however that the effort required to address these challenges is the responsibility – be it legal or moral – not just of the ICRC, but of a wide range of actors including States and non-state actors, military forces and legislators.
I shall focus firstly on certain challenges related to armed conflict in general and secondly on those related specifically to non-international armed conflicts.
So what are some of the ongoing challenges to IHL? The first relates to the conduct of hostilities. I referred earlier to the changing nature of armed conflict and the increasingly blurred lines between combatants and civilians. Civilians have progressively become more involved in activities closely related to actual combat. At the same time, combatants do not always clearly distinguish themselves from civilians, neither wearing uniforms nor openly carrying arms. They mingle with the civilian population. Civilians are also used as human shields. To add to the confusion, in some conflicts, traditional military functions have been outsourced to private contractors or other civilians working for State armed forces or for organised armed groups. These trends are, if anything, likely to increase in the years ahead.The result of this, in a nutshell, is that civilians are more likely to be targeted – either mistakenly or arbitrarily. Military personnel are also at increased risk: since they cannot properly identify their adversary, they are vulnerable to attack by individuals who to all appearances are civilians.
IHL stipulates that those involved in fighting must make a basic distinction between combatants on the one hand, who may lawfully be attacked, and civilians on the other hand, who are protected against attack unless and for such time as they directly participate in hostilities. The problem is that neither the Geneva Conventions nor their Additional Protocols spell out what precisely constitutes "direct participation in hostilities".
To put it bluntly, this lack of clarity has been costing lives. This is simply unjustifiable. In an effort to help remedy this situation, the ICRC worked for six years with a group of more than 50 international legal experts from military, academic, governmental and non-governmental backgrounds. The end result of this long and intense process, published just two months ago, was a substantial guidance document. This document serves to shed light firstly on who is considered a civilian for the purpose of conducting hostilities, what conduct amounts to direct participation in hostilities, and which particular rules and principles govern the loss of civilian protection against direct attack. Without changing existing law, the ICRC's Interpretative Guidance document provides our recommendations on how IHL relating to the notion of direct participation in hostilities should be interpreted in contemporary armed conflict. It constitutes much more than an academic exercise. The aim is that these recommendations will enjoy practical application where it matters, in the midst of armed conflict, and better protect the victims of those conflicts.
Direct participation in hostilities is not the only concept relating to the conduct of hostilities that could benefit from further clarification. Differences exist over the interpretation of other key notions such as "military objective", the “principle of proportionality” and "precaution".
The debate has been prompted in part by the growing number of military operations conducted in densely populated urban areas, often using heavy or highly explosive weapons, which have devastating humanitarian consequences for civilian populations. The media images of death, injury and destruction -- of terrible suffering -- in such situations of conflict in different parts of the world are surely all too familiar to everyone here today.
Another key issue here is the increasingly asymmetric nature of modern armed conflicts. Differences between belligerents, especially in terms of technological and military capacities have become ever more pronounced. Compliance with the rules of IHL may be perceived as beneficial to one side of the conflict only, while detrimental to the other. At worst, a militarily weak party – faced with a much more powerful opponent – will contravene fundamental rules of IHL in an attempt to even out the imbalance. If one side repeatedly breaks the rules, there is a risk that the situation quickly deteriorates into a free-for-all. Such a downward spiral would defy the fundamental purpose of IHL – to alleviate suffering in times of war. We must explore every avenue to prevent this from happening. I would also like to briefly address the humanitarian and legal challenges related to the protection of internally displaced people. In terms of numbers, this is perhaps one of the most daunting humanitarian challenges arising in armed conflicts around the world today, from Colombia to Sri Lanka and from Pakistan to Sudan. This problem not only affects the many millions of IDPs, but also countless host families and resident communities.
Violations of IHL are the most common causes of internal displacement in armed conflict. Preventing violations is therefore, logically, the best means of preventing displacement from occurring in the first place. On the other hand, people are sometimes forcibly prevented from fleeing when they wish to do so. During displacement, IDPs are often exposed to further abuses and have wide-ranging subsistence needs. Even when IDPs want to return to their place of origin, or settle elsewhere, they are often faced with obstacles. Their property may have been destroyed or taken by others, the land might be occupied or unusable after the hostilities, or returnees may fear reprisals if they return.As part of the civilian population, IDPs are protected as civilians in armed conflicts. If parties to conflicts respected the basic rules of IHL, much of the displacement and suffering caused to IDPs could be prevented. Nevertheless, there are some aspects of IHL concerning displacement that could be clarified or improved. These include in particular questions of freedom of movement, the need to preserve family unity, the prohibition of forced return or forced resettlement, and the right to voluntary return. These various humanitarian and legal challenges exist in all types of armed conflict, whether international or non-international. However, I would now like to highlight some specific challenges concerning the law regulating non-international armed conflicts. Non-international armed conflicts are by far the most prevalent type of armed conflict today, causing the greatest suffering.
Yet there is no clear, universally-accepted legal definition of what such a conflict actually is. Both Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions and the second Additional Protocol give rise to certain questions on this. How can a non-international armed conflict be more precisely distinguished from other forms of violence, in particular organized crime and terrorist activities? And what if a non-international armed conflict spills over a State border, for example? The lack of clear answers to such questions may effectively allow parties to circumvent their legal obligations. The existence of an armed conflict may be refuted so as to evade the application of IHL altogether. Conversely, other situations may inaccurately or prematurely be described as an armed conflict, precisely to trigger the applicability of IHL and its more permissive standards regarding the use of force, for example. Even where the applicability of IHL in a non-international armed conflict is not in dispute, the fact that treaty-based law applying to these situations is at best limited has led to further uncertainties. Let us remember however that non-international armed conflicts are not only governed by treaty law.
The substantial number of rules identified in the ICRC's 2005 Study on Customary International Humanitarian Law provides additional legally binding norms in these situations.But while customary IHL can fill some gaps, there are still humanitarian problems arising in these types of conflicts that are not fully addressed under the current applicable legal regime. IHL applicable in non-international armed conflict contains general principles but remains insufficiently elaborate as regards material conditions of detention and detainees' right of contact with the outside world, for example. Lack of precise rules on various aspects of treatment and conditions of detention and the lack of clarity surrounding detention centres may have immediate and grave humanitarian consequences on the health and well-being of detainees. Therefore, even if the primary humanitarian challenge lies in the lack of resources by detaining authorities and in the lack of implementation of existing general principles, more precise regulation of conditions of detention in non-international armed conflict could usefully complement some of IHL’s fundamental requirements.
Other areas that suffer from a lack of legal clarity include procedural safeguards for people interned for security reasons. In an effort to clarify minimum procedural rights, in 2005 the ICRC issued a set of procedural principles and safeguards applicable to any situation of internment, based on law and policy. The ICRC has been relying on this position in its operational dialogue with detaining authorities in a number of contexts around the world. Adequate protection could nevertheless be better ensured if procedural safeguards were put on a more solid legal footing by States. Humanitarian issues arise in other areas as well, in part because of a lack of rules, or because the rules are too broad or vague, leaving much to subjective interpretation. These areas include access to populations in need of humanitarian assistance, the fate of missing persons and protection of the natural environment. And this list is not exhaustive. To address these humanitarian and legal challenges, the ICRC has been intensively engaged for the past two years in a comprehensive internal research study. The study aims firstly to explain in simple terms the scope of application of the law to the whole range of aforementioned humanitarian concerns arising in non-international armed conflicts, including the challenge of improving compliance with the law by all parties to such conflicts. On the basis of this, its second aim is to evaluate the legal responses provided in existing law to these humanitarian concerns. Based on a comprehensive assessment of the conclusions of this research, which is still underway, a case will be made for the clarification or further development of specific aspects of the law. The research will be followed by proposals on how to move forward, both substantively and procedurally.
Within the scope of this study, the ICRC is also looking at aspects of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions that need to be further clarified. Article 3 is widely regarded as a mini Convention in itself, binding States and non-state armed groups; a baseline from which no departure, under any circumstances, is allowed. It applies minimum legal standards to the treatment of all persons in enemy hands, regardless of how they may be legally or politically classified or in whose custody they may be. We are preparing a consolidated reading of the protective legal and policy framework applicable in non-international armed conflicts that meet the threshold of common Article 3.
The ICRC has a responsibility in ensuring that the Conventions will continue to stand the test of time. Of course it is the political and legal responsibility primarily of States, which have universally ratified the Conventions, to ensure that they are implemented and enforced.
Ideally of course, all parties to an armed conflict, whatever they call themselves or each other, would appreciate that it is in their own best interest to apply the legal restraints provided by IHL. After all, combatants on both sides have obligations as well as rights. On the other hand, failure to prevent abuse against others ultimately removes the safeguard against similar abuse in return. The result, simply put, is spiralling human suffering.
However, the lack of respect for existing rules remains, as ever, the main challenge. I hardly need to remind you of the catalogue of flagrant violations of IHL frequently witnessed in armed conflicts around the world today. This situation – sadly – is compounded by a prevailing culture of impunity. True, there have been significant positive developments towards strengthening accountability for war crimes through various international tribunals and the International Criminal Court. National legislators and courts are also finally starting to live up to their respective responsibilities of ensuring that domestic legislation recognises the criminal responsibility of those who violate IHL, and of actually enforcing such legislation.
Public pressure and international scrutiny of conduct in an armed conflict are also significant factors in improving compliance with IHL. This presupposes adequate knowledge and training in IHL not just by lawyers and military commanders, but by wider sectors of the public at large. After all it was public pressure – and the collective shame of governments in failing to stop the atrocities in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda – that led to the establishment of the ad-hoc tribunals for those countries in the mid-1990s.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse. At least the guidance, clarification and proposals coming out of the various ICRC initiatives I mentioned will make recourse to this excuse by parties to a conflict even less credible.
The ICRC can only contribute one part of what must be a concerted international effort to improve compliance with IHL. On the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, I make a heartfelt plea to States and non-state armed groups who are also bound by their provisions, to show the requisite political will to turn legal provisions into a meaningful reality. I urge them to show good faith in protecting the victims of armed conflicts - conflicts that in view of the challenges I have mentioned today are likely to become ever-more pernicious in the years to come.
Sixty years ago, the Geneva Conventions were born out of the horrors experienced by millions of people during the Second World War and its aftermath. The essential spirit of the Geneva Conventions – to uphold human life and dignity even in the midst of armed conflict – is as important now as it was 60 years ago. Thank you for doing all you can to keep that spirit alive.
And that is so important that I will just now move to the snapshot. This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:
Wednesday, August 12, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the Geneva Conventions should be in the news, Iraqi refugees struggle in Syria, the US and around the globe, Danny Fitzsimons' attorneys advocate for moving his trial from Iraq to England, and more.
Today is the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. Jakob Kellenberger, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, marked the occassion with a speech noting the importance then and now of the Geneva Conventions. We'll note this section on International Humanitarian Law which applies to many regions including Iraq:
So what are some of the ongoing challenges to IHL? The first relates to the conduct of hostilities. I referred earlier to the changing nature of armed conflict and the increasingly blurred lines between combatants and civilians. Civilians have progressively become more involved in activities closely related to actual combat. At the same time, combatants do not always clearly distinguish themselves from civilians, neither wearing uniforms nor openly carrying arms. They mingle with the civilian population. Civilians are also used as human shields. To add to the confusion, in some conflicts, traditional military functions have been outsourced to private contractors or other civilians working for State armed forces or for organised armed groups. These trends are, if anything, likely to increase in the years ahead. The result of this, in a nutshell, is that civilians are more likely to be targeted – either mistakenly or arbitrarily. Military personnel are also at increased risk: since they cannot properly identify their adversary, they are vulnerable to attack by individuals who to all appearances are civilians. IHL stipulates that those involved in fighting must make a basic distinction between combatants on the one hand, who may lawfully be attacked, and civilians on the other hand, who are protected against attack unless and for such time as they directly participate in hostilities. The problem is that neither the Geneva Conventions nor their Additional Protocols spell out what precisely constitutes "direct participation in hostilities". To put it bluntly, this lack of clarity has been costing lives. This is simply unjustifiable. In an effort to help remedy this situation, the ICRC worked for six years with a group of more than 50 international legal experts from military, academic, governmental and non-governmental backgrounds. The end result of this long and intense process, published just two months ago, was a substantial guidance document. This document serves to shed light firstly on who is considered a civilian for the purpose of conducting hostilities, what conduct amounts to direct participation in hostilities, and which particular rules and principles govern the loss of civilian protection against direct attack. Without changing existing law, the ICRC's Interpretative Guidance document provides our recommendations on how IHL relating to the notion of direct participation in hostilities should be interpreted in contemporary armed conflict. It constitutes much more than an academic exercise. The aim is that these recommendations will enjoy practical application where it matters, in the midst of armed conflict, and better protect the victims of those conflicts. Direct participation in hostilities is not the only concept relating to the conduct of hostilities that could benefit from further clarification. Differences exist over the interpretation of other key notions such as "military objective", the "principle of proportionality" and "precaution". The debate has been prompted in part by the growing number of military operations conducted in densely populated urban areas, often using heavy or highly explosive weapons, which have devastating humanitarian consequences for civilian populations. The media images of death, injury and destruction -- of terrible suffering -- in such situations of conflict in different parts of the world are surely all too familiar to everyone here today. Another key issue here is the increasingly asymmetric nature of modern armed conflicts. Differences between belligerents, especially in terms of technological and military capacities have become ever more pronounced. Compliance with the rules of IHL may be perceived as beneficial to one side of the conflict only, while detrimental to the other. At worst, a militarily weak party -- faced with a much more powerful opponent -- will contravene fundamental rules of IHL in an attempt to even out the imbalance. If one side repeatedly breaks the rules, there is a risk that the situation quickly deteriorates into a free-for-all. Such a downward spiral would defy the fundamental purpose of IHL -- to alleviate suffering in times of war. We must explore every avenue to prevent this from happening. I would also like to briefly address the humanitarian and legal challenges related to the protection of internally displaced people. In terms of numbers, this is perhaps one of the most daunting humanitarian challenges arising in armed conflicts around the world today, from Colombia to Sri Lanka and from Pakistan to Sudan. This problem not only affects the many millions of IDPs, but also countless host families and resident communities.
Violations of IHL are the most common causes of internal displacement in armed conflict. Preventing violations is therefore, logically, the best means of preventing displacement from occurring in the first place. On the other hand, people are sometimes forcibly prevented from fleeing when they wish to do so. During displacement, IDPs are often exposed to further abuses and have wide-ranging subsistence needs. Even when IDPs want to return to their place of origin, or settle elsewhere, they are often faced with obstacles. Their property may have been destroyed or taken by others, the land might be occupied or unusable after the hostilities, or returnees may fear reprisals if they return. As part of the civilian population, IDPs are protected as civilians in armed conflicts. If parties to conflicts respected the basic rules of IHL, much of the displacement and suffering caused to IDPs could be prevented. Nevertheless, there are some aspects of IHL concerning displacement that could be clarified or improved. These include in particular questions of freedom of movement, the need to preserve family unity, the prohibition of forced return or forced resettlement, and the right to voluntary return.
The Iraq War has created the largest humanitarian crisis. No number fudging necessary, the largest. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates the at risk population residing in Iraq to be 3,140,345. That includes the 2,647,251 Internally Displaced Persons and the 230,000 Stateless Persons (such as the Palestinians trapped on Iraq's border with Syria). Outside of Iraq, the at risk Iraqi population is 4,797,979 which includes the 1,903,519 external refugees. These at risk populations are at risk due to the Iraq War. Syria and Jordan continue to house the largest numbers of Iraqi refugees. The most recent estimates (January 2009 -- and based on registration which a number of refugees avoid for various reasons) places 1,200,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria, 450,000 in Jordan, 150,000 in Gulf States, 58,000 in Iran, 50,000 in Lebanon, 40,000 in Egypt and 7,000 in Turkey.
In all those numbers, it's easy to lose track of the individuals. Philip Jacobson (Huffington Post) reports on Iraqi refugee Ahlam Ahmed Mahmoud's journey. She was featured in Deborah Campbell's 2008 "Exodus: Where will Iraq go next?" (Harper's Magazine) which found her in Syria assisting other Iraqis. Campbell was visiting her in May of 2008 when Mahmoud was rounded up by Syrian police, told she would have to spy for Syira on journalists, refused to do so and locked away in a prison for over five months. After finally being release, Mahmoud arrived in Chicago and Iraqi refugees who had made it to the United States (a very small number -- Western nations have done an appalling job in granting asylum to Iraqi refugees) expected that the "fixer" Mahmoud would again be able to assist them and help them navigate the complicated and confusing system. Mahmoud attempted to beg off but ended up starting Iraqi Mutual Aid Society with Beth Ann Toupin. That's the bare bones of her story, Philip Jacobson sketches it out in detail (and with skill) so make the time to read his article. Last month, Mary Owen (Chicago Tribune) reported that Chicago's Edgewater and Rogers Park house approximately 3,000 Iraqis.
Meanwhile the New York Times continues to INSULTINGLY describe Mudhafer al-Husaini as "a former translator with" the paper. This attitude is why the bulk of stringers the paper had early on, hated, HATED, the paper. It's why most of them moved as quickly as possible to work for other outlets. And at other outlets, they got bylines a lot quicker. But Muhafer al-Husaini got bylines (slowly) at the New York Times and it's a little insulting to readers of the paper and a lot insulting to the work Mudhafer al-Husaini did. In June of 2008, Alissa J. Rubin and Mudhafer al-Husaini wrote "Baghdad Blast Kills Four Americans," January of this year Sam Dagher and Mudhafer al-Husaini wrote "Bomber at Iraqi Shrine Kills 40, Including 16 Iranian Pilgrims," November of last year Katherine Zoepf and Mudhafer al-Husaini make the front page with their "Militants Turn to Small Bombs in Iraq Attacks" -- we can go and on. I know bylines -- even if the paper doesn't. And bylines aren't given out of kindness. Anyone who thinks that doesn't grasp the egos on most reporters. Mudhafer al-Husaini earned his many bylines. He is a journalist. Don't insult him by referring to him as a translator. (Nothing wrong with being a translator. I have many friends who are. But, at the paper, he was a 'media worker' who became a journalist. Give him his earned credit for being a journalist.) Mudhafar al-Husseini was granted asylum in the US and he reports on the last months at the Committee to Protect Journalists:
I now live in Tucson , Arizona , a quiet city and a good place to start over and get a wider view of America . I am one of many Iraqis who have come to Tucson . When I talk to fellow Iraqi immigrants, they are also surprised to find such a quiet city in America , but most say that this city is a good fit for them. There are others who are not satisfied with it, and I think that is because they're jobless, which is the same problem in many parts of the U.S. now.
I was astonished by several things I never imagined about life in America . Life is very serious and practical here, and people don't have much time to talk on the street, in markets, or even in public places. It seems everyone is busy with his or her own business and daily concerns. Sometimes I feel that it's good this way, and other times I hate it because in Baghdad you would never feel alone or neglected. People in Baghdad would stay up late and forget about their long workday by hanging out with friends or going out. The day would go until midnight, or even beyond. Many things have changed since the invasion, and the deterioration of the security situation has kept most Iraqis indoors.
I was also surprised that most Americans know nothing about the reality of the war in Iraq . I sometimes find it hard to explain, because Iraq is a complicated place. I think it's the history, the civilization, and the old sand of that country that makes it harder than others to be understood. These aspects were not considered at all before the war. You have to study Iraqi history well and get to know the culture more before dealing with the people on a long-term basis.
This afternoon Kirk Semple (New York Times) reports on Iraqi refugees in the US and finds in New York what is going on across the country -- Iraqi refugees struggle to find work, depend on assistance to pay bills and worry about the meager government benefits running out (which they do -- they run out very quickly). Uday al-Ghanimi and his wife and their three children live in New York and all but Uday speak of a desire to go back to Iraq. Lumping "special visas" and those granted asylum, Semple is reporting that the US has only taken in 45,000 Iraqi refugees since the start of the illegal war. For context, that's 5,000 less than Lebanon is currently officially housing. That's shameful -- both due to the riches of the United States (yes, even in this economic crisis) and for the US government's responsibility in starting the illegal war.
Not all Iraqi refugees are Christians but they make a large percentage of the refugee population (especially considering their percentage in the overall Iraqi population). AINA reports US House Rep Jan Schakowsky has released an open letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the issue of Iraq's refugees. The [PDF format warning] August 7th letter reads:
I am writing to you today to urge you to develop a comprehensive strategy for the protection of ethno-religious minorities in Iraq. As you are aware, Iraqi minorities continue to face persistent persecution and danger. In particular, I am extremely concerned about the ongoing ethno-religious cleansing of Iraq's Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christian community.
Iraqi Christians have faced relentless persecution, threats, and violence since the commencement of United States operations in Iraq, and the danger has accelerated dramatically since 2004. In fact, 2008 represented one of the most devastating years for Iraqi ethno-religious minorities, especially the Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians. Because of the ongoing crisis facing minority groups, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has now formally designated Iraq a 'Country of Particular Concern.'
Despite this ongoing crisis, the United States has consistently failed to develop a comprehensive policy to address this serious situation. However, I believe that we now have an opportunity to encourage widespread recognition of this crisis and work together to find a solution. Any successful diplomatic policy must consider security, development, and governance dimensions, and must recognize the centrality of the Nineveh Plains to the future of these people. It must also include the full implementation of Article 125 of the Iraqi constitution.
I strongly urge you to develop a meaningful policy outlining concrete steps that the U.S. can take towards a sustainable solution. As you begin this process, I would encourage you to meet with representatives of the Assyrian community to discuss the situation.
Please note that Joe Biden, vice president of the United States, has been designated as the point person on Iraq. This designation came about after Barack's unannounced go to on the region proved to be a failure. (That person was not Hillary. Hillary was never the point-person on Iraq.) Nineveh was in the news on Monday with the twin truck bombings attacking the Shabak community. Article 125 of Iraq's Constitution deals with local administration [PDF format warning, click here] and states, "This Constitution shall guarantee the administrative, political, cultural and educational rights of the variou snationalities, such as Turkomen, Chaldeans, Assyrians, and all other constituents, and this shall be regulated by law." Meanwhile Stockholm News notes Sveriges Radio reporting "Christian Iraqi refugees have been sent back to Iraq. This has raised upset reactions both from within Sweden and from foreign human rights experts." In Syria, Susan Irvine (Financial Times of London) reports on Iraqi refugees, "Besma didn't rush to tell me about Iraq and the war, and I was reticent to ask. But over time she told me about the early days of 'shock and awe'. Communications were down, and the area where her mother lived was being heavily bombed. Besma persuaded a neighbor to drive her through Baghdad -- an incredibly dangerous journey -- to check on her. They got as far as the river, but the bridges were blown up. She told me about the first time she looked out of her window and saw Americans 'coming down the street in their big Hummers as if they owned the place'. She told me how her brother was murdered in the sectarian violence that followed. Her mother -- 'thanks be to God' -- was unharmed."
At the end of last month, the UNHCR issued a report entitled "Surviving in the city" focusing on cities in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria and dealing with the needs of "large populations of urban refugees." Among the problems faced, "the majority of Iraqis do not have any immediate prospect of finding a solution to their plight. Most of them consider that current conditions in Iraq prevent them from repatriating, while a significant number state that they have no intention of returning there under any circumstances." From page 49 (report is not PDF format, for any thinking that detail was forgotten):
A Jordanian scholar who was interviewed in the course of this review commented that "the decision to flee from your own country is always easier to make than the decision to return." This observation is certainly supported by the case of the Iraqi refugees, many of whom left their homes at short notice, threatened by escalating violence in their homeland and the very real threat that they would be targeted for attack because of their religious identity, their profession or their relative prosperity.
At the time of their sudden departure, the refugees hoped that the crisis would not persist very long, and that withing a reasonable amount of time they would be able to return to Iraq, reclaim their property and resume their previous life. But as time has passed, those expectations have faded and the refugees are left with few choices with regard to their future.
The majority do not want to repatriate now or in the near future. Only some of the refugees can expect to be admitted to a third country by means of resettlement. And those who remain in their countries of asylum have no opportunity to benefit from the solution of local integration have very limited prospect for self-reliance and are confronted with the prospect of a steady decline in their standard of living. In the words of an elderly refugee man living in the Syrian city of Aleppo "when we left Iraq, we simply didn't know that we would end up like this."
Today the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released their [PDF format warning] 2nd Quarter report "Humanitarian Funding Update" which shows huge shortfalls for all countries in terms of the monies needed for assistance. For Iraq, the UN was calling for $650 million and has seen $276 million in contributions this year leading to a shortfall of $374 million.
In Iraq today, Chelsea J. Carter (AP) reports 67 US service members have been confirmed as having swine flu and when these cases are combined with Iraqi cases, you have 96 confirmed cases. Please note that the Iraqi tally is probably much higher. The health care system has broken down and the Health Ministry is not eager to count accurately after Nouri and his underlings began blaming US service members for the swine flu outbreak in Iraq. (The same swine flu outbreak that is global.) Also grasp that the World Health Organization's Iraq country Office issued an invitation to bid on H1N1 detection kits -- that's swine flu and swine flu is what it's known as -- July 12th. And when did the bidding process end? July 26th. So there's a shortage currently on swine flu detection kits in Iraq. They're short on swine flu tests but, Ned Parker and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) report, they can bet on the horses. No word on whether the OTB allows people to bet on violence but violence continued in Iraq today.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which left three people wounded, a Baaj grenade attack which claimed the life of 1 father, 1 guard, 2 sons who were police officers, 1 "little boy" as well as wounding three more people, a suicide car bombing in Ramadi which claimed the lives of the driver and 1 police officer and left two more police officers and a civilian wounded, and a Kirkuk car bombing which claimed the lives of 3 police officers and left four more wounded. Reuters notes a Mahmudiya roadside bombing which left three people wounded and a Kirkuk roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 police officer and left five more injured.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports Iraqi police officer Brig Gen Abdulhameed Khalaf Asfoor was shot dead as he returned from a funeral in Mosul. Reuters notes 1 "old man" was shot dead in Mosul and an armed clash in Ramadi in which one police officer was injured and 2 suspects were shot dead.
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 4 people kidnapped since Monday, two were released by kidnappers, a third was rescued by police and no word on the fourth.
"They gave me a gun" he said
"They gave me a mission
For the power and the glory --
Propaganda -- piss on 'em
There's a war zone inside me --
I can feel things exploding --
I can't even hear the f**king music playing
For the beat of -- the beat of black wings."
[. . .]
"They want you -- they need you --
They train you to kill --
To be a pin on some map --
Some vicarious thrill --
The old hate the young
That's the whole heartless thing
The old pick the wars
We die in 'em
To the beat of -- the beat of black wings"
-- "The Beat of Black Wings," words and music by Joni Mitchell, first appears on her Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm.
Meanwhile Neil Syson (The Sun) reports, "An ex-paratrooper accused of murdering two workmates in Baghdad could face the noose within WEEKS." He's referring to Danny Fitzsimons who served in the British military for eight years and was stationed in Afghanistan and Kosovo as well as Iraq. He is accused of being the shooter in a Sunday Green Zone incident in which 1 British contractor, Paul McGuigan, and 1 Australian contractor, Darren Hoare, died and one Iraqi, Arkhan Madhi, was injured. Eric and Liz Fitzsimons spoke to the BBC (link has video) and noted that they are not asking for Danny to 'walk.' They stated that he has to take responsibility. But they want a fair trial and do not believe that is possible in Iraq. Amnesty International issued the following yesterday:Responding to reports that a British employee of a security company working in Iraq may face a death sentence, Amnesty International UK Media Director Mike Blakemore said: 'It's right that private military and security company employees like Danny Fitzsimons are not placed above the law when they're working in places like Iraq and it's right that the Iraqi authorities are set to investigate this very serious incident. 'However, as with all capital cases, Amnesty would strenuously oppose the application of the death penalty if applied to Mr Fitzsimons in this case.'Iraq has a dreadful record of unfair capital trials and at least 34 people were hanged in the country last year alone. 'The important thing now is that if Danny Fitzsimons is put on trial he is allowed a fair trial process without resort to the cruelty of a death sentence.' Last year 34 criminals were hanged in Iraq. Private security guard Fitzsimons, employed by UK firm ArmorGroup, would be the first Westerner on trial since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Steven Morris (Guardian) reports Danny's attorneys do not believe that he will receive a fair trail in Iraq with Trevor Linn fearful Danny will be "made an example of". Scotland's The Herald offers background on the two deceased contractors: Paul McGuigan served in the British military before becoming a contractor, his wife is pregnant, Darren Hoare had served in Australia's Air Force before becoming a contractor.
The International Press Institute issued "As Threat of Violence Still Looms Large over the Media in Iraq, another Menace Emerges in Form of Draft Law to 'Protect' Journalists" yesterday:Iraq Still the Most Dangerous Country in the World for ReportersAs U.S. troops continue to hand power over to Iraqi authorities in Iraq, IPI calls on the Iraqi government to protect press freedom in the country. Iraq remains the most dangerous country in the world for journalists – who now face a new threat in the form of a draft law published in Iraq on Friday 31 July, according to news reports. Ostensibly designed to 'safeguard' journalists' rights, the draft law does contain some provisions that should help protect journalists in Iraq. It equates an attack on a reporter to an attack on a government employee, and maintains that journalists cannot be pressured into publishing material that is incompatible with their beliefs, opinions or conscience. However, the draft legislation also contains worrying provisions that could have a negative impact on media freedom. For example, vague wording prohibiting journalists from "compromising the security and stability of the country" may be used to stifle valid criticism. Such words are reminiscent of legislation in place in a host of countries with poor records on media freedom which broadly and unfairly interpret terms like 'compromising security' to snuff out and punish virtually any form of criticism of government and state interests. The draft law also contains a dispiriting message on the protection of sources, which would be guaranteed unless "the law requires the source to be revealed" -- in other words there is no guaranteed protection for sources. The bill also stipulates that freedom of the press can be suspended if a publication threatens citizens or makes "provocative or aggressive statements" -- again, a vaguely worded phrase leaving much room for interpretation. "While we welcome the positive aspects of this draft law, we call on the Iraqi parliament to remove those sections that could hinder media freedom in the country," said Michael Kudlak, IPI Deputy Director. "A free and unfettered press is one of the most vital elements in any fledgling democracy, so Iraqi politicians must ensure that the media is free to work with the minimum restraint."In recent years, Iraq has been one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, with at least 169 journalists killed in the line of duty over the last seven years, according to IPI's figures -- many of them Iraqis murdered in the sectarian violence that has ravaged the country. On Friday 7 August, Iraqi journalists expressed fear at again being targeted, following a fiery sermon by a prominent Shiite cleric, Jalal Eddin Saghir, allegedly inciting violence against a journalist. Eddin Saghar had apparently taken issue with the journalist linking his political party, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, to a July bank robbery in Baghdad.
Edward Cody (Washington Post) reports on yesterday's press conference in Paris where supporters of the residents of Camp Ashraf (under assault since July 28th) declared the US and the United Nations were shirking their responsibilities. Cody quotes French jurist Francois Serres stating, "We must underline that the responsiblity of the United States in this matter, moral as well as leagl, is overwhelming." The US did leave the residents to believe they would be safe (which is what Nouri led the US to believe). Under Geneva, 60th anniversary today, remember, the US and the United Nations have a responsibility to those residents -- both in terms of their safety and in terms of preventing their forced deportation to Iran.
Meanwhile McClatchy's Mike Tharp vows the Iraq War is the last war he will cover and he offers ten lessons he's learned -- we'll note this one, "Lesson No. 3 is that few of those leaders will ever have to pay the price of their folly. The 4,300-plus American dead, 31,000-plus American wounded, hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed Iraqis have paid the cost. But not the McNamaras or the Bundys or the Cheneys or the Wolfowitzes or the Johnsons or Nixons or Bushes. They get medals and money. The ones who made the ultimate sacrifice get lost in the pages of history. Five of their names are carved in granite at Courthouse Park in Merced."
And Ms. magazine notes, "Join Ms. in celebrating Gloria Steinem's 75th birthday.
As Gloria turns 75, Ms. is providing supporters an opportunity to wish her a happy birthday in the magazine. That's right. Ms. will print the names of supporters who want to celebrate with Gloria this extraordinary landmark -- not only of years, but of her amazing achievements for women. To participate, we are asking you to make a special gift of $75 - or $15 - or $150 - or whatever multiple of $75 you can afford, to not only celebrate Gloria's birthday but to keep her legacy of Ms. strong for future generations. Whatever the size of your contribution, we will make sure your name is printed in Ms. wishing Gloria happy birthday." This will be in an entry tomorrow morning in greater length but we can squeeze that snippet into the snapshot right now. Trina did a wonderful job explaining how Congress and the White House are attempting to sell a plan that doesn't exist. Make a point to read her. Bob Somerby tackles Melissa Harris Lacewell today (I feel dirty just saying her name -- Lie Face) and Stan tackled her last night while Betty tried to go over the facts for those who seem immune to them and Marcia and Ruth also offered press critiques. (As did Elaine. We commented this morning but I just don't have it in me to deal with Rod Nordland and the Times nonsense this afternoon.) Finally, from ETAN:
August 12 - Members of the U.S.-based East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) will gather in Timor-Leste later this month to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the country's historic vote for independence. "In Dili we will demonstrate our ongoing commitment to the Timorese people," said John M. Miller, ETAN's National Coordinator. "We will join with Timorese and international activists to look back at the East Timorese struggle for independence and to evaluate the new nation's course since those momentous events. We will explore with our Timorese friends how we can best support Timor-Leste in the future." "We will also strongly reaffirm our commitment to justice and accountability for the years of crimes against humanity committed by Indonesia with U.S. government backing," he added. "Our goal is to return home with a deeper understanding of today's Timor and a strengthened commitment and concrete plans for ongoing ties with the people of the still struggling nation," added Pam Sexton a member of ETAN's Executive Committee who has been living in Timor-Leste during the past year. "The anniversary should not serve only as platform for self-congratulatory speeches by the international community and politicians" said Charles Scheiner, an ETAN co-founder. "The United Nations and its members need to clearly understand the impact of their failure to help the Timorese people from Indonesian's invasion in 1975 through 1998. International support since then needs to be made more effective and responsive to Timorese needs," added Scheiner works with La'o Hamutuk, a local organization founded soon after the independence vote to monitor international institutions and foster grassroots participation in decision-making. Contact ETAN to arrange interviews from Timor-Leste. Background Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 and illegally occupied the territory until October 1999, with backing from the United States and other powers. On August 30, 1999, the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly for independence in a UN-organized referendum. Following the vote, Indonesian security forces and their militia laid waste to the territory, capping nearly two and half decades of brutal occupation with the destruction of 75% of the buildings and infrastructure. Timor-Leste's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (CAVR) estimates that up to 184,000 Timorese people were killed as a result of the occupation. Timor-Leste became independent in May 2002. ETAN was a major participant in the International Federation for East Timor's Observer Project, one of the largest international observer missions for the vote in 1999. ETAN members also served as observers with church and parliamentary delegations. ETAN was formed in 1991 to advocate for self-determination for the occupied country. The U.S.-based organization continues to advocate for democracy, justice and human rights for Timor-Leste and Indonesia. ETAN recently won the John Rumbiak Human Rights Defenders Award. For more information, see ETAN's web site: http://www.etan.org/ .
the los angeles timesned parker
the new york timeskatherine zoepfmudhafer al-husaini
amnesty internationalneil sysonbbc news
chelsea j. carter
mike tharpmcclatchy newspapers
the washington post