Iraq war unjustified says human rights group
Ewen MacAskill, diplomatic editor
Tuesday January 27, 2004
The US and British governments cannot justify the Iraq war on humanitarian grounds, according to the annual report of Human Rights Watch published yesterday.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of the human rights organisation, said at the launch of its 407-page report in London: "The Bush administration cannot justify the war in Iraq as a humanitarian intervention, and neither can Tony Blair.
"Such interventions should be reserved for stopping an imminent or ongoing slaughter. They shouldn't be used belatedly to address atrocities that were ignored in the past."
Although Saddam was responsible for massacres, especially of the Kurds in 1988 and of Shia Muslims in 1991, Human Rights Watch said the killing had "ebbed" by the time of the invasion last year.
Mr Roth said: "We know summary executions occurred in Iraq up to the end of Saddam's rule, as did other brutality. These should be met with diplomatic and economic pressure, and prosecution.
"But before _ war, mass slaughter should be taking place or imminent. That was not the case in Saddam Hussein's Iraq in March 2003."
In the report and in a speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Mr Roth expressed fear that the war in Iraq could taint future calls for humanitarian intervention.
He said Human Rights Watch supported the idea of military intervention over the last decade to stop the genocide in Rwanda and in the Balkans. He claimed that humanitarian intervention had climbed the political agenda as other justifications offered by the US or British governments for going to war collapsed: Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction, his alleged terrorist links and the idea that Iraq could serve as a beacon for democracy in the Middle East.
"The dominant justification for the war - WMD - seems to be fading away," he said.
"The only way [that is left] to justify this war is as a humanitarian war."
Human Rights Watch began in the US 25 years ago and now has representatives worldwide. The report also concentrates not only on human rights in Iraq but in Africa, Chechnya and the Balkans, and is critical of the US for continuing to hold prisoners in Cuba as part of its "war on terrorism".
Human Rights Watch regards war as the option of last resort, and that preferably such conflict should have the approval of the United Nations security council, though sometimes, as in the case of Rwanda, this was not possible.
Another Human Rights Watch criterion was whether war would make life better for the population being invaded. While life was better for Iraqis today, he said "the jury is still out" on whether life was going to be significantly better for Iraq's people than it had been under Saddam.
Full Text of the report is here.