Association of Humanitarian Lawyers
ORGANIZATION OF AMERICAN STATES
The Situation in Iraq
Written statement submitted by International
Educational Development, Inc.,
2. The case, registered as “Petition No. P-1258-04, United States,” is in process, and we submit supplemental documents as we uncover relevant facts. At time of writing (June 2005), we are preparing another supplemental document, to be submitted before the Sub-Commission session, based on information obtained by journalist Dahr Jamail and other sources about the complete devastation of Falluja’s medical infrastructure and the detention of Falluja’s medical doctors. It is clear that the media is still not allowed unfettered access to Falluja, and contrary to Geneva Convention rules, the Iraqi Red Crescent is not allowed fully to carry out its rights under humanitarian law to provide relief.
3. The Sub-Commission cannot afford to remain silent on this issue, especially because since the wholesale assault on Falluja’s medical facilities, personnel and patients, the United States military forces have carried out similar assaults in other areas of Iraq. This effectively means that the United States is openly defying the most fundamental rules of humanitarian law as set out in the Geneva Conventions since the first one in 1864.
4. While the international community has rightly expressed outrage over the treatment of United States held detainees, there has been little outcry over blatant attacks on protected medical targets, with some notable exceptions. For example, Sir Nicholas Young, the head of the British Red Cross, stated after the assault on Falluja’s hospitals, that this example of erosion of respect for medical neutrality “threatened to obliterate” humanitarian law.1 We agree. Addressing violations of medical neutrality in other conflicts will be much more difficult for States that have not spoken up and taken action on the violations in Iraq. Voluntary compliance by parties in other conflicts may cease -- why should they comply when the United States does not. In this sense, the United States military operations against protected medical facilities and persons is a devastating frontal assault on the Geneva Conventions that is far more serious than torture in United States controlled detention facilities: as bad as those violations are, the United States at least acknowledges them as violations and indicates that it is not general US policy. How embarrassing that the United States has not been made to answer to any international or national body regarding hospitals in Iraq except in response to our petition at the OAS.2
5. We note that attacks such as occurred against medical facilities and personnel in Falluja meet the definition of “grave breaches” as set out in Article 147 of the 4th Geneva Convention: there was “willful killing,” “inhuman treatment,” “willful causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health” and “extensive destruction or property . . .not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”3 We remind the Sub-Commission and the international community that the Geneva Conventions require all “High Contracting Parties” to “ensure respect for the [Geneva] Convention[s] in all circumstances” (Geneva Conventions I - IV, Common Article 1). All States must “search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, . . .grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts . . . [or] hand such person over for trial to another High Contracting Party.” Geneva Conventions I - IV, Article 49 (I); Article 50 (II); Article 129 (III) and Article 146 (IV). We expected that High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions would have taken action required of them by now. And while the Sub-Commission is not a party to the Geneva Conventions, it ought to speak out firmly about any war crime of this degree of severity.
6. The assaults in Falluja were compounded by the use of
illegal weapons by US forces: weapons containing depleted uranium, phosphorus
bombs and perhaps napalm.4 There is much photographic evidence compiled
by journalist Dahr Jamail and others that many of the dead did not die
of simple bullet wounds but were burned beyond recognition. Some survivors
have serious burns. Exposure to depleted uranium will undoubtedly complicate
the health of the survivors -- already weakened by many years of sanctions
and without adequate food, water, shelter and medical care. The abject
failure to provide adequate food, medical supplies and water for the
people of Falluja both within Falluja or forced to flee and in camps
outside of Falluja defies the duty to do so established by Article 55
of Geneva Convention IV. United States action to prevent supplies being
brought to the civilian population both in and without of Falluja by
others violates Article 59 of Geneva Convention IV, compounding the
assault on the Geneva Conventions.5 Further, because so many doctors
were either killed, injured, fired upon, detained, and otherwise prevented
from doing the little they could (considering that there is no functioning
hospital or supplies), many surviving doctors have left Falluja, and
even Iraq, for safe haven.
8. In conclusion, the Sub-Commission must soundly condemn
the United States for attacks on protected medical targets in Iraq,
and, with full recognition of the level of gravity of the violations,
call upon an international tribunal under the auspices of the United
Nations to look into these grave breaches. To fail to even mention these
breaches is another step to the obliteration of the Geneva Conventions.
1 The High Commissioner for Human Rights and the head of
the International Committee of the Red Cross issued statements, although
there is no indication of any follow-up actions. A member of the United
States Congress, Representative Jim McDermot (Democrat, Washington)
had a guest editor letter published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
in which he indicated “serious breaches” of the Geneva Conventions,
but there has not been calls in Congress for any investigation into
attacks on hospitals in Falluja or elsewhere in Iraq.