April 26th, 2007 02:48 EST
Casualty figures continue to climb in Iraq
Large-scale indiscriminate killings and targeted assassinations continue to impede efforts to bring lasting stability and security to Iraq, according to the latest United Nations human rights report released today on the strife-torn country, where causalities continue to climb despite recent efforts to stem in the bloodshed.
Although Government officials declared a drop in the number of killings in late February after the Baghdad Security Plan was launched, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) says the number of reported casualties rose again in March.
UNAMI also voiced concern regarding the handling of suspects arrested as part of the Plan. The new procedures “contained no explicit measures guaranteeing minimum due process rights.” Rather, the report argues, “they authorized arrests without warrants and the interrogation of suspects without placing a time limit on how long they could be held in pre-trial detention.”
While UNAMI recognizes the tremendous obstacles the country face in restoring law and order, Iraq “remains bound by both its international treaty obligation and its domestic legislation in taking measures to curb the violence,” the report, covering the period from 1 January to 31 March, says.
Making no distinction between civilians and combatants, armed groups directly attack civilians through suicide bombings, abductions and extrajudicial executions. “Such systematic or widespread attacks against a civilian population are tantamount to crimes against humanity and violate the laws of war,” UNAMI says.
Building on previous studies, this most recent report says the Government must also address the issue of maintaining long-term stability and security. “In this context, the intimidation of a large segment of the Iraqi population, among them professional groups and law enforcement personnel, and political interference in the affairs of the judiciary, were rife and in need of urgent attention,” it states.
While the previous nine human rights reports issued contained statistics on killings, UNAMI regrets that authorities did not allow UNAMI access to the Ministry of Health’s mortality figures for this period.
“UNAMI emphasizes again the utmost need for the Iraqi Government to operate in a transparent manner,” the report notes.
In New York, a spokesperson for the world body said the UN will still seek official data on fatalities. “The Mission will continue to speak with the Iraqi authorities and urge them to provide the necessary information,” Michele Montas said. Even without the mortality figures at its disposal, UNAMI asserts that there was still a high level of violence during the reporting period, with large-scale killings and assassinations carried out by insurgency groups and militias, among others.
February and March saw sectarian violence claim the lives of many civilians, including women and children, in both Shia and Sunni neighbourhoods. On 3 February, around 135 people were killed and 339 injured when a truck loaded with explosives detonated in a busy market in a mostly Shia district of Baghdad.
The Mission also expresses concern at the use of terrorism and other forms of inhuman treatment in detention centres, and stresses the need to establish an effective tracking method to account for the location and treatment of those after arrest.
Further, UNAMI says that there is a worrying increase in intolerance towards minorities as well as in attempts to muzzle the press. “Across the country, attacks against journalists and media outlets continued, resulting in a high number of casualties among media workers,” it notes.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 730,000 Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes since the al-Askari shrine in Samarra was bombed last February, adding to the approximately 1.2 million others displaced prior to that. Baghdad neighbourhoods have increasingly become split along Shia and Sunni lines, and this trend must be reversed to allow civilians to return to their homes, the Mission says.
During the period covered by this new report, UNAMI expanded the areas it monitors to the three northern governorates under the authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Although the area’s security situation is stable, there have been reports of impingements of the freedom of expression.
Also, the report notes the lack of due process for detainees held on suspicion of involvement in terrorism in the region. “Hundreds have been held for prolonged periods without referral to an investigative judge or charges brought against them,” it says.