ICRC and Amnesty Criticize Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq

ICRC and Amnesty Criticize Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq

By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – To mark the five year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, the International Commission of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Amnesty International released reports detailing the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.  Both reports highlighted the plight of Iraqi citizens, including: food and water shortages; violence and instability; and human rights abuses committed with impunity.

The ICRC and Amnesty reports expressed concern regarding the critical situation of many of Iraq’s most vulnerable citizens, such as children, families-headed by women, refugees, the elderly and the disabled.

There are over four million displaced Iraqis with at least 2.2 million who are internally displaced.  In addition, over 2 million Iraqis have fled to neighboring Syria and Jordan.  However, these countries are ill-equipped to provide this large number of refugees with appropriate shelter and humanitarian assistance.  As a result, both Syria and Jordan have imposed strict visa restrictions and essentially trapping fleeing refugees within Iraq.

Within Iraq, the humanitarian crisis has been described as “among the most critical in the world.”  In July 2007, Oxfam reported that 70 percent of Iraqis lacked access to safe drinking water.  ICRC accredited this water crisis to population growth, especially in urban areas, and the lack of trained engineers to repair and maintain the water and sanitation facilities.  ICRC pointed to the cholera outbreak in 2007 as one indication of the danger of unsafe water.

In addition to the water situation, Iraqis also face a health care shortage.  Not only do hospitals lack adequate supplies to treat the wounded and sick, but they also lack doctors.  ICRC stated that according to Iraqi officials, over 2,200 doctors and nurses have been killed and over 250 kidnapped since March 2003.  Of the 34,000 doctors registered in Iraq in 1990, over 20,000 have left.

In addition to water shortages, poverty, and lack of proper health care, Iraqi citizens are frequently victims of sectarian and insurgent violence.  While efforts to increase security have produced some results, ordinary Iraqi citizens are killed on a daily basis.  Attacks have been increasingly carried out with the intention of maximizing the loss of civilian life.

For example, on March 17, a bomb exploded in the Shiite holy city of Karbala and killed 43 people and injured 73 others.  The attack occurred less than a mile away from Imam Hussein shrine, a pilgrimage center for Shia Muslims.  In April 2007, two bombings targeted Karbala and resulted in the death of over 100 Iraqis.

Béatrice Mégevand Roggo, the head of the ICRC’s operations in the Middle East and North Africa, said, “Better security in some parts of Iraq must not distract attention from the continuing plight of millions of people who have essentially been left to their own devices.”

Mégevand Roggo added, “To avert an even worse crisis, more attention must be paid to the everyday needs of Iraqis.”

For the reports, please see:
Amnesty International – Iraq: Carnage and Despair: Iraq Five Years On – 17 March 2008

ICRC – Iraq: No Let Up in the Humanitarian Crisis – 17 March 2008

For more information, please see:

BBC – Iraq bomb Attack Toll Rises to 52 – 18 March 2008

The Guardian – 39 Die in Bomb Attack on Shias – 18 March 2008

New York Times – Bombing Kills 43 in  Shiite Holy City in Iraq – 18 March 2008

AFP – Red Cross, Amnesty Paint Grim Picture of Post-Invasion Iraq – 17 March 2008

Amnesty International – Carnage and Despair in Iraq – 17 March 2008

Associated Press – Red Cross: Many Iraqis Still Lack Basics – 17 March 2008

BBC – Bleak Picture of Iraq Conditions – 17 March 2008

Xinhua – Red Cross: Humanitarian Situation Still Critical in Iraq – 17 March 2008

BRIEF: Rights Group Doubts Zimbabwe Election Can Be “Free and Fair”

CAPETOWN, South Africa – International human rights group Human Rights Watch (“HRW”) claims the upcoming elections in Zimbabwe are not likely to be fair, because the current government  intimidated opposition supporters. HRW also says there are deep-seeded flaws in the electoral process. The group alleges human rights abuses leading up to the electoral process, including violence against detractors; restricting freedom of assembly; gaining political advantage through distribution of food and farming equipment; and denying opposition supporters access to the media. Also, HRW believes voter registration lists are inaccurate, saying they have “found evidence of dead people registered to vote including a former minister who died thirty years ago.” The group concludes that the poll, scheduled to take place March 29, cannot possibly be a “free and fair” vote, given the current conditions.

Eighty-four year old President Robert Mugabe is seeking his sixth term in office as representative of the Zanu-PF party, which has held power in Zimbabwe for twenty-eight years following independence. He is being opposed by his former finance minister Simba Makoni and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe’s Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told the BBC that “such reports reflected what the West wanted to hear.” He denies any bias in the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, and accused HRW of having an agenda.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, however, has said the distribution of polling stations have been biased have been biased in favor of rural areas, where Mugabe has a network of support.

For more information, please see:

BBC News – Zimbabwe rejects free poll fears – 19 March 2008

Voice of America – Rights Groups Doubt Zimbabwe Elections Will be Fair – 19 March 2008

UPDATE: Human Rights Watch Calls Hu Jia’s Trial a “Sham”

BEIJING, China – On Tuesday Hu Jia, a prominent human rights activist and dissident, stood trial on subversion charges. His trial lasted approximately three hours. Hu Jia was charged of subversion for writing articles that criticized China for its human rights record. Prosecutors provided six articles he had written, which they suggested featured criticisms so serious that they were threats to the state. After the trial, Hu Jia’s lawyer, Li Fangping, said, “We believe his articles are expressing peaceful views that do not concern state security but that represent criticism of the current system.” The parties expect a verdict in the next week.

Human Rights Watch [HRW] has publicly criticized the matter and called forChina to drop the charges against Hu Jia. Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at HRW, commented on Hu Jia’s case, “His arrest was political, the charges are political, and his trial is political

Human rights groups have pointed to Hu Jia’s recent arrest and trial as an unfortunate but common occurrence in China. Many allege that China has recently cracked down on dissidents to silence criticism before the Olympic Games. According to the Dua Hia foundation, a non-profit group located in San Francisco that is involved in Chinese legal issues, there has been a sharp increase in arrests for subversion and other related crimes. In 2007, 742 people were arrested for charges like subversion, which is more than twice the amount of persons arrested in 2005.

For more information, please see:

HRW – China: Trial of Leading Activist a Sham – 17 March 2008

Impunity Watch – Chinese Dissidents Detained and to Stand Trial for Criticisms– 10 March 2008

The New York Times – Chinese Rights Advocate Tried – 19 March 2008

BRIEF: Lawyer for Interim Government Denies High Court’s Jurisdiction

SUVA, Fiji — Guy Reynolds, the attorney representing Fiji’s interim government in the case to determine the legality of the 2006 coup, presented his closing argument in that case today.  In his remarks, he stressed that the High Court had extremely narrow jurisdiction in reviewing the authority of the Fiji executive.  Specifically, Reynolds argued that the High Court had no power to review the issue because it dealt exclusively with executive privilege. 

According to Reynolds, the Court had only two issues to decide in the case.  The first is whether the executive possesses special prerogative  powers.  Second, whether the President intended to use these powers, vested in him, between December 5th 2006 and January 2007.  Reynolds’ argument was that exigent civil constitutional circumstances required that former President Ratu Josefa Iloilo exercise his executive powers in order to safeguard the welfare of the people of Fiji.  Specifically, President Iloilo appointed the interim government in light of the absence of former PM Qarase and his government’s inability to respond to the needs of the people.

Reynolds concluded his argument by saying that these executive’s executive powers can even cover illegal acts.  Given the extraordinary nature of these prerogative powers, Reynolds argued, the High Court did not have the authority to rule on the issue of the coup’s legality.


For more information, please see:

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji president acted under reserve powers during coup, says state lawyer — 18 March 2008

Radio New Zealand International — Fiji constitution allows for review of Presidential decisions, High Court told — 18 March 2008

Fiji Village — Court has no jurisdiction — 18 March 2008

Fiji Village — Inaction forced president to act — 18 March 2008

Fiji Broadcasting Corporation Limited  — ‘Fiji should back President’ — 18 March 2008

Fiji Times — President used powers because of civil crisis — 18 March 2008

BRIEF: Israeli Police Clash with Right-Wing Demonstrators

Riots at Jabel Mukaber (Photo: Guy Assayag)

JABAL MUKABER, East Jerusalem – On March 16, hundreds of right-wing activists evaded police barricades and entered Jabal Mukaber, an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem.  Once in the Jabal Mukaber, the demonstrators began throwing stones at the homes of the Arab residents.  Police moved in to disperse the demonstrators, sparking violent clashes between the two groups.  After several hours, the police successfully ended the demonstration and forced its participants to leave.  The incident resulted in minor injuries to two policemen and 22 protesters arrested on suspicion of stoning Arab residents’ houses.

Following the March 6 attack at Mercaz Harav yeshiva, there has been discussion of whether Israel should raze the home of Alaa Abu Dhaim, the gunman who carried out the attack.  Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter issued an order for its demolition.  A decision which is supported by Defense Minister Ehud Barak.  However, the order has not been carried out.

Groups organizing the demonstration stated that since the government has failed to demolish Abu Dhaim’s home, it was their duty as Israeli citizens to carry out the order.  One of the organizers, Baruch Marzel, stated, “The police must know that there is a price for the fact that they are not demolishing the terrorist’s house. Apparently other people have to complete the job for this to happen.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Israelis Storm East Jerusalem – 16 March 2008

Ha’aretz – Right-Wing Demonstrators Try  to Storm Home Village of Mercaz Harav Gunman – 16 March 2008

Jerusalem Post – 22 Arrested in Right-Wing Demonstration – 16 March 2008

Middle East Times – Ultra-Nationalists Clash with Israeli Police in Jerusalem – 16 March 2008

Yedioth News – Police: We were Surprised by Intensity of Rightists’ Riots – 16 March 2008

Yedioth News – Rightists Hurl Stones at Arab Homes in Jerusalem – 16 March 2008