George W. Bush’s reelection victory must not be misinterpreted as popular approval of his administration’s policies that have led to gross human rights violations in pursuing the “war on terror.” Now more than ever, citizens of the US and citizens of the world must challenge these policies and work hard to repair the damage done and prevent the trend from continuing.
No group has suffered more from Bush’s “war on terror” than the people of Iraq. Despite calls by Amnesty International that coalition forces refrain from the use of indiscriminate attacks that may put civilians at disproportionate risk, countless civilians have been killed or injured during the US-led war on Iraq – a war that clearly violated the provisions of the United Nations Charter and which was based on mistaken assumptions that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and/or provided support to al Qaeda.
Some Iraqis have been victims of cluster bombs, others have been killed in disputed circumstances. Unexploded bomblets from cluster bombs pose an ongoing threat to civilians – particularly children, who sometimes mistake the brightly colored bomblets for toys. Article 51 (4) Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions prohibits the use of indiscriminate weapons, i.e., weapons that cannot distinguish between civilians and civilian objects and soldiers and military objects.
Indiscriminate weapons include nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, cluster bombs, land mines, and weapons using depleted uranium. No landmine, for instance, can distinguish between the boot of a soldier and the footfall of a child. However, the ongoing violence in Iraq continues to put civilians at risk. Do President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld realize that this “collateral damage” leaves behind families, careers, hopes, and dreams?
Iraqi prisoners captured by coalition forces have faced their own nightmares. Thousands have been arrested, detained without charge or trial, and, in some cases, tortured. Amnesty International and other organizations had reported on allegations of torture or other mistreatment by Coalition forces at Guantanamo and elsewhere since as far back as 2002, and had continually raised concerns with senior White House and Defense Department officials regarding illegal interrogation practices. However, the problem was seemingly ignored until the photos from Abu Ghraib hit our television screens last year. To date, some low-level prison employees have faced charges, but much more needs to be done to address this issue.
Amnesty International has renewed its call for Washington to launch a comprehensive, independent investigation of the use of torture by US forces in the “war on terror.” A recent Amnesty report stressed that, in the absence of such an investigation and of the clear and unequivocal rejection of torture and ill-treatment by top US officials, “the conditions remain for further abuses to occur.” Despite the fact that many top Bush administration officials publicly denounced the abuse once it was made public, many questions remain unanswered, responsible individuals sit beyond the scope of investigation, policies that facilitate torture remain in place, and prisoners continue to be held in secret detention.
For those Iraqis who have been fortunate enough to avoid death, injury, or detention, life is still far from easy. Coalition forces have failed to fully live up to their responsibilities under international humanitarian law as occupying powers, including their duty to restore and maintain public order and safety, and to provide food, medical care, and relief assistance. Widespread looting of public and private buildings and a sharp rise in criminal activities have been seen across the country.
Many people have faced grave dangers to their health due to power cuts, shortages of clean water, and lack of medical services. Insecurity remains a major concern for the Iraqi population – a problem heightened by the lack of appropriate policing and the wide availability of arms. Iraqi women and girls in particular have faced increased threats to their security, as many have faced violent attacks, including abduction, rape, and murder, as law and order have broken down. Many women have become too afraid to leave their homes, and girls have been kept away from school. Women who are victims of violence in the street or home have virtually no hope of obtaining justice.
The world must not stand aside and allow the Bush administration to ignore its obligations under international law. We must call for greater protection of Iraqi civilians. We must call for an independent and public investigation into the reports of prisoner abuse, and for all those responsible to be held accountable. And we must demand an end to the Bush administration’s ongoing disregard for human rights.
The “war on terror” can only be won through international harmony and full respect for the human rights of all.