9 April 2003 marked the beginning of the illegal occupation of Iraq. It was on 20 March 2003 that American-led forces invaded the country, resulting in a deadly legacy of violence and destruction in the name of 'liberating’ the country. By 9 April 2003, 21 years ago to this day, the invading forces comprising the so-called “coalition of the willing” begun what would become a years-long occupation of the country, an occupation whose outcomes still subject Iraqi people to gross human rights violations to this day.

Geneva International Centre for Justice has for years documented the abuses of the occupation, and called on the international community to bring justice to the Iraqi people. As we reflect on the 21-mark since this tragic moment in the country’s history, it is important to highlight the ways in which the lives of Iraq’s people have been, and continue to be, profoundly impacted by it. These include:

  • The killing of over 2 million Iraqi citizens
  • The destruction of the country’s civilian infrastructure and cultural heritage
  • The widespread use of arbitrary arrests, torture and enforced disappearances by the occupying forces
  • The imposition of a sectarian regime, empowered by tyrannical militia, that bears no resemblance to a true democratic system.
  • The destruction of the country’s environment, specifically in regard to the frequent use of toxic and radioactive weaponry and ammunitions by the occupation forces, contributing to significant health problems including the sharp rise in cases of cancer and child deformities

This article will address the circumstances that have brought these terrible conditions to life. It will discuss the crimes of the occupation, as well as those of the political structure, still present to this day, that it left behind. Then, it will provide an outline of GICJ’s calls to the international community to make amends for these atrocities.

A Legacy of Human Rights Violations

The False Pretenses of the Invasion and Subsequent Occupation

The coalition that invaded Iraq, beginning with its “Shock and Awe” bombardment of the capital, Baghdad, on 20 March 2003, claimed its actions were motivated by the desire to destroy the government’s supposed arsenal of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Despite years of investigation by international inspectors, neither the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), nor the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ever found substantial evidence of WMDs in the country. Numerous insider reports have come out over the years indicating that the foreign administrations that led the invasion were themselves aware of this fact at the time, yet proceeded to plunge the country into darkness nonetheless.

A military invasion waged without a justification for war is purely a war of aggression, which according to the Tribunal of Nuremberg, is among the highest international crimes that can be committed. Such an act of aggression is further recognised as an international crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). At every turn, the U.S. and U.K.-led forces flouted international law, and have since shown little remorse for doing so. It is only right that the perpetrators of this injustice be investigated and held accountable for the resulting atrocities.

Human Rights Violations Under the Occupation

Over 2 million Iraqi citizens were killed directly as a result of war-related violence caused by the U.S. invasion and occupation. The presence of coalition forces throughout the country, which we should note are widely documented to have launched airstrikes, bombings and ground raids on numerous civilian populations, only spurred chaos in their path. The instability caused by the occupation exacerbated sectarian tensions between ethnic and religious communities, leading to widespread violence, including targeted killings, bombings, and reprisal attacks. The occupation also created the conditions for the rise of several terrorist groups, most notably ISIS and Shia militias, which continue to commit untold human rights violations in regions of the country to this day.

The occupation forces also committed numerous other categories of human rights violations during their time in Iraq. These include mass enforced disappearances, including of journalists and media figures who brought to light the crimes of the invaders. Over the years, dozens of reports emerged of unspeakable abuse of detainees by coalition troops. The most infamous case was the revelation of systematic torture of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison by U.S. military personnel. The abuses included physical assault, sexual abuse, and psychological torture. Many of the victims will never recover from the trauma inflicted upon them.

The Foreign Imposition of a Violent Sectarian Political System

One of the gravest crimes of the occupation was the imposition of the existing sectarian system of governance. Under the 2005 constitution, power sharing in Iraq is determined along ethnic and religious lines, particularly between the Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish peoples. Not only are parliamentary seats and appointments to important offices designated on this basis, so too is the management of entire government ministries and departments. The results are profound. Iraqis lack access to basic services if they happen not to belong to the groups administering them. They are also subject to rampant corruption and systematic human rights violations, fostered by a siloed government structure that inhibits impartial investigations into its abuses.