Human Rights in Iraq - Terrorism or State Terror?

On the 19th of June 2014, Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) held an urgent side-event during the 26th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to discuss the current crisis unfolding in Iraq.

The meeting moderated by Julius Lee from the Malaysian Law Students Union of the United Kingdom & Eire featured as speakers Ahmed Quraishi, Senior Research Fellow at Project For Pakistan and Career investigative journalist, Daniela Dönges, Senior Human Rights Researcher, Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ), Karen Parker, International Educational Organisation, Former Chief Delegate of Humanitarian Law Project, and United Nations Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order.

The panel agreed that the brutal sanctions, unjustified war and Anglo-American occupation have not only led to the current crisis, it has pushed Iraq towards the brink of destruction. The panel also condemned Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s sectarian policies and the atrocious and unnecessary military support from the United States of America to further wage his sectarian war against his political oppositions; whom he claims are “terrorists”.  Further violence will not end the suffering; it will only prolong it, the panel agreed and in this regard, all forms of military aid to the Iraqi government must end immediately.

Ahmed Quraishi

Senior Research Fellow at Project For Pakistan, Career investigative journalist (full-time investigative journalist and observer of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003)

In addressing the floor, Quraishi mentioned that it is important to note that the current crisis in Iraq should no longer be solely attributable to the uprisings of ISIS. This is a full-blown misrepresentation of the deeper issues plaguing the State and region. The current crisis, which is widely acknowledged as the “Iraqi Revolution” amongst several Iraqis, is a popular uprising steered by several “tribal groups” led by both civilians and militants (this even includes the General Military Council of Iraqi Revolutionaries).

Most of these tribal groups, as explained in an Al Jazeera interview held with General Mizher Al Qaissi of the General Military Council of Iraqi Revolutionaries, have “no coordinations or cohesion with ISIS”. ISIS only comprises a small faction of rebels that currently enjoys basking in the limelight of the media and garnering all the attention.

Quraishi explained that the only point where ISIS are dominant is in their media strategy, which seems to be welcomed by both Western media and governments that, according to several experts, makes the (1) ISIS story and analysis a simplified version of the crisis; and (2) helps provide accessible and readable content to the international community (which unfortunately also undermines the complexity of the current issue).

It is very important that we remind our readers that the vast majority of the armed people who are now fighting are the same ones that we supported in the past: first as forces of the Iraqi resistance against US occupation; and then as the pacific uprisings from 2011 and again in December 2012. These forces were backed by a popular base.

Even if the Military Council of Iraqi Revolutionaries decides not to fight them until Bagdad is liberated, Quraishi argued that it is likely that ISIS will be expelled from Iraq by Iraqis themselves once a fully-functioning democracy is restored.

This point was confirmed shortly thereafter when the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, in the same week, asserted that (1) ISIS extremism has no place in Iraqi society; and that (2) they are not in control of the States in Iraq as portrayed by the international media. This can further corraborated by the statement of General Mizher Al Qaissi of the General Military Council of Iraqi Revolutionaries the following day (20th June 2014):

“It is not possible for revolutionary movements to continue militarily without political solutions, and arms will be put down once their aim is realized. We wanted to realize this aim with the least possible losses but we were forced to bear arms. We are not alone and I emphasize this now - there is a nation behind us that authorized us to bear arms. 

[W]e have repeatedly emphasized we are not warmongers; we do not wish to shed blood but on the contrary any blood that is shed on Iraq’s soil, no matter what part it emanates from, is blood that is too dear to us.”

In ending his statement, Quraishi reminded the floor that unless Maliki’s sectarian and brutal policies are halted, the uprisings of further tribal groups, which include extremists such as ISIS, would continue to grow. Most of these groups that are inspired to exploit the present chaotic situation under the weak leadership of Nouri Al Maliki will continue to persist unless they are given more democratic platforms for dissent.

Daniela Dönges

Senior Human Rights Researcher, Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ)

In continuing Quraishi’s argument, Daniela agreed that Maliki’s sectarian policies and the prolonged psychological build-up has led to the current crisis; not ISIS. It is a shame that the international media has failed to mention, or has seemed to have forgotten, about Maliki’s indiscriminate shooting, shelling and bombing of innocent civilians in cities which he claims harbours “terrorists”; most repursued on sectarian-inspired lines.

Under his watch, Maliki is well-known towards labelling and targeting all his political opponents as “terrorists”. Most of the bombed and shelled cities such as Fallujah, Ramadi and Al-Anbar, have indeed housed famous political opponents of Maliki’s brutal regime.

Since December 2012, the peaceful protests by Iraqi civilians seeking political reform and the appointment of a “unity” government were constantly responded with violent crackdowns that have resulted in the deaths of approximately 400 innocent civilians (the total deaths during the war and occupation amounted to more than a million civilians; the crisis in June alone has led to the deaths of 2,500 civilians; whereas hundreds of thousands of Iraqis remain displaced). The current offensives we are witnessing remains one of the last few options of Iraqis seeking to further their plight towards ending the injustices and impunity under Maliki’s sectarian regime.

The statement given by General Mizher Al Qaissi again emphasised on this point:

“[W]e ask that they look at the legitimacy of our demands with humanity. Maliki has killed us, violated our sanctities, arrested the women, and commits every atrocity, exposed our areas to annihilation, committed massacres, and we have no one but God – we raise our palms to the sky because we have no champion, we have spoken loudly and asked for help but no one answered us, and we appreciate this, because we do not want to burden them with more than their powers.

We want a new Iraq, whose people enjoy its wealth; a democratic Iraq with its people enjoying democracy; governed by a government they choose that governs them with justice and with its people coexisting with love for each other maintaining Iraq’s unity.  

Daniela also played a video showing the recent statement on Iraq delivered by Stuart Stephenson in his capacity as President for European Conservatives and Reformists Group, which must be noted by the international community:

“Tens of thousand of people of have protested on the streets, week after week, regarding the oppression, sectarianism and brutality of the assassinations and bombings of the Maliki regime on predominantly Sunni populations. He continues to launch indiscriminate major offensives as seen in the Al-Anbar region. Even the hospitals in Fallujah were destroyed, schools have been attacked, and mosques have been demolished.

This is almost a genocidal war against the Sunni population by Nouri Al Maliki. But yet he has persuaded the West that this is a “war on terror”, and he has been so successful with this propaganda that they have been supplying him with weaponry including helicopters, jets, drones, rockets, missiles and others which he has been using to kill innocent civilians”.

Karen Parker

International Educational Organisation, Former Chief Delegate of Humanitarian Law Project

In her capacity as one of the leading experts in the evolving fields of international law, particularly in the fields of economic sanctions, weaponry and environmental law, Karen emphasised that what most not be forgotten by the international community alongside the current crisis is the devastating legacy left by the Iraq war and occupation on the jurisprudential development of international legal order. The media’s attention on ISIS today seems to be an absolute diversion from the impact of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In citing an example, she held that the gross and blatant violations of the UN Charter has left a damaging impact on the enforceability of its provisions as perceived by ratified States. Under Article 2(4):

“All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”

This rule was "enshrined in the United Nations Charter in 1945 for a good reason: to prevent states from using force as they felt so inclined", said Louise Doswald-Beck, Secretary-General International Commission of Jurists.

As ratified members of the Charter, USA and its coalition allies during the invasion in ignoring this provision, coupled with the silence of the international community in halting this violation, has left us to wonder whether the UN Charter (or any other provision in international law for that matter) will be regarded with equal respect, recognition and compliance.

Karen also noted that it was equally important to remember the hastiness of the Anglo-American coalition in “rushing to war” in 2003 which, in their legitimate viewpoint was to prevent further threats of Iraq’s nuclear program and links with Al-Qaeda under the Saddam regime; only to lead to the “dodgy dossier” shortly thereafter revealing that no such links/threats exist.

During this period, the requirement to obtain a second UN Security Council resolution to invade Iraq in 2003, as provided for under Article 39 of the UN Charter, was not and cannot be deemed “authorised” by the previous resolutions relating to the 1991 Gulf War (which the Western coalition deemed was sufficient). With the absence of any armed attack by the targeted State, any legal use of force, or any legal threat of the use of force, had to be supported by a UN Security Council resolution authorizing Member States to use such force against Iraq. None of these provisions were complied with.

Regrettably, the fact that this was blatantly ignored by the international community has elusively placed the USA and UK into an “unprecedented” position in international legal order; which defies our common and mutual stand in international law.

The war crimes committed have also violated countless jus cogen norms that the international community strongly condemns; particularly the widespread human rights abuses such as extrajudicial killings, rape and many forms of torture. Violations of these norms on such a wide scale, along with such impunity, was a direct implication to the international community that evolving jus cogen norms can somehow be overlooked.

In her closing remarks, Karen emphasised that the enforceability of international law, as many other academics, theorists and empiricists have argued, is moot unless the international community (1) acts in unity in condemning such violations; (2) consolidates the shaming and shunning of such aggressors/such acts of aggression (which was lacking during this period); and (3) promotes the need for accountability to hold such violators responsible. The Iraq war and occupation not only saw a failure of the international community to prevent these acts; it was a devastating blow towards the role of the international community in preventing such atrocities.


Dr Alfred De Zayas

United Nations Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order

In addressing the floor in his capacity as Professor of International Law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Dr Alfred De Zayas spoke about the legacy left behind by the invaders and occupiers of Iraq.

He held that when discussing about Iraq’s crisis today, we should begin by acknowledging that the invasion, war and occupation were the greatest travesties of our time. Throw in whatever “intellectually dishonest” arguments to justify them – the result remains that not only was the war illegal, Iraq is in no better position today than it was before the invasion. In fact, the sectarian conflict we are witnessing is peaking towards an irreconcilable conflict with no viable solution in sight.

Somehow all forms of “rational discourse” to stabilise the region has, according to Zayas, ballooned into weighing-out further scaremongering tactics such as possible airstrikes, military armament and deployment of drones. We have fallen into a fallacious “logical” pit assuming that the precise tools that have stripped away the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians who wanted no part, and played no part, in any of Saddam’s political game will be the exact tools that would end the war against terror.

On top of this, he emphasised that for a long time the international community has remained strongly silent towards human rights violations in Iraq, as no forms of protest were made despite there being some of the most extreme and blatant violations of such laws. This precisely being the legacy left behind by the American occupiers, the dismantling of the Iraqi judiciary system, military forces, governing institutions and even educational facilities, have led Iraq into a disastrous societal vacuum that enabled the chaotic, anarchical situation we are witnessing today.

This landscape, particularly during the years of American occupation, paved an environment that is ripe for extreme forms of human rights violations to be committed with impunity; an unfortunate legacy that remains with Iraq’s successive “democratic” governments.

Dr Zayas illustrated that just as the American occupiers utilised the “sectarian divide” to break-up the resistance during the occupation, today Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki is prolonging that legacy to retain his power. What we are witnessing today under his regime has cornered much of Iraq’s innocent population to bear arms in response to Maliki’s violent crackdowns against them.

The sudden amnesia that has gripped the international community undoubtedly makes ISIS an easy target to be classified as the “real problem”. The particulars permeating through discourses today, which mostly revolve around Mosul, Tikrit, Syraq, the oil refinery in Baija, undermines the devastating damage that has resulted through the illegal war and occupation of the Anglo-American forces in Iraq.

He further held that just as history has proven that Iraq barely posed a legitimate threat to both USA and UK under Saddam, today the same arguments are resurfacing with the need to contain ISIS. Dr Alfred emphasised that these tactics and guises have been well adopted by Nouri Al-Maliki to contain his political opponents.

It is dreadful, according to him, that some have even coined the idea that further military invasion could help stabilise the State and region. To begin with, the complexity surrounding the Sunni-Shia communities and religious-sectarian differences that are now sowed are intricate issues that no foreign invader could simply disregard as “unessential”. These communities have rarely erupted into a full-scale, violent conflict in Iraq for centuries before the 2003 war begun – although they differed on religious viewpoints. The international community needs to stop being deluded into assuming that deep-rooted sectarian tensions, that they themselves have created, are resolvable by allegedly greater foreign “democratic seed-planting” invasions; especially into a nation and region they have no “knowledge” about. 

The lasting legacy that the Anglo-Americans have left, both of whom now so eagerly want to “wash their hands off” has led Iraq to one of its darkest moments in history. Regurgitating arguments such as “further military intervention”, in an attempt to further justify the moral legitimacy of destroying a land that does not belong to anyone but Iraqis, is not only a violation of international law but also an affront to the dignity of all mankind. Iraqi civilians have been unjustly and tremendously wronged at the expense of our miscalculated and vague political interests.

In his final few minutes, Dr Zayas agreed with Karen Parker that the international community must stand with the Iraqi people instead of opting for political sides and justifying hazy, political interests. Our ultimate interests must lie with the lives and dignity of millions of innocent Iraqis who want no further part in this. The international community must also accept that we have wronged Iraqis in failing to prevent this humanitarian crisis – we owe them our compassion, sympathy and support in resolving this undeserving catastrophe.

We also have to accept that Iraqis will never feel at peace until the world’s greatest war criminals face their trials - as it is a betrayal of the international community to abandon Iraq at the hands of our mutual political interests, leaving them in tatters to rebuild themselves from scratch.


At the end, the panel as whole agreed that ISIS may be the ultimate trigger that encouraged the world to suddenly refocus on Iraq, but they urged the floor not to ignore the preceding circumstances that led to the build-up of this crisis. It is important that we understand these issues deeply and profoundly before we attempt to resolve them ourselves.

They argued that if we stand firm with the principles of international solidarity and mutual responsibility, then Iraq should be on our priority of countries that requires our immediate assistance. Military deployment and the trade of weapons have to end immediately, foreign intervention needs to be halted, and Iraq now needs a new and inclusive, democratic leader to reform their country.

Will the Human Rights Council address the situation in Iraq?

On the 25th of June 2014, the High Commissioner has informed, for the first time since 2003, that the UN Human Rights Council must address the human rights abuses in Iraq in a Special Session. 

Deputy High Commissioner, Falvia Pansieri, delivered a statement at the 26th Session of the Council on behalf of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights addressing the escalation of violence in Iraq.

In this statement, she held:

“The High Commissioner has expressed extreme alarm at the deterioration of the human rights situation [in Iraq]. She called for the immediate cessation of acts of violence and abuses committed against civilians in violation of applicable international human rights and humanitarian laws”.

She added that “violations of international human rights law continue to occur in complete impunity, including unlawful killing, gender-based violence, attacks on civilians and attacks on protected buildings such as medical units”.

In this regard, the High Commissioner has called on the Iraqi Security forces to exercise restraint in their ongoing military operations, and to take measures to ensure that civilians are protected from violence. She has also urged Iraq’s political leaders to urgently seek a sustainable resolution to the crisis, including by promoting an inclusive government of national reconciliation, with equal treatment and representation for all communities.

In her closing remarks, Ms Falvia expressed that “this Office is following the situation very closely, in particular though its presence within the integrated mission. OHCHR stand ready to report on the matter as early as possible, either during an urgent gathering-should the Council be willing to reconvene after this session- or during the Council’s September session."

This is the first time in 11 years that the Office has called for a Special Session on Iraq, which must and should be welcomed by the international community. Ever since the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003, GICJ and many other NGOs have been demanding for a Special Session on Iraq. We are delighted that this announcement has finally been made.

GICJ is now working closely with the United Nations and NGOs in helping ensure that this session in the nearst future. We are also working closely with several experts, politicians and diplomats around the world in finding ways to help resolve the current crisis. 

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