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Iraq: Rapporteur Presses Human Rights Questions, Prison Amnesty

The United Nations human rights rapporteur for Iraq has publicly presented his first report to the General Assembly since his fact-finding visit to Iraq last February. He says there has been a clear improvement in cooperation with Iraqi officials on his work but he expressed concern about Iraq's failure to respond adequately to numerous allegations of rights abuses. He also urged Iraq to provide more information on those prisoners released in the amnesty decree last month and to resolve the issue of hundreds of missing Kuwaitis.

United Nations, 6 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations human rights rapporteur for Iraq, Andreas Mavrommatis, has asked Iraqi officials for more details on the release of thousands of prisoners last month and assurances that it was a good-faith gesture.

Mavrommatis told a human rights committee of the UN General Assembly yesterday that he has asked Iraqi authorities for the names of all those released in the prison amnesty that took place in mid-October. He says he has also requested the names of those not released and the reasons why. Similar requests have been made by human rights groups like Amnesty International.

The rights rapporteur, assigned to investigate Iraq by the UN Human Rights Commission, made his first visit to Iraq in February. Mavrommatis said he had seen appalling conditions in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and welcomed last month's amnesty. But more details are necessary, he said, to ensure that there are no relapses and that people do not find themselves in prison again for no reason.

Mavrommatis also urged Iraqi authorities to provide more complete responses to his requests for information about various alleged rights abuses, especially in the use of the death penalty and prison conditions. He says Baghdad's responses so far have provided little new information.

He also told the UN committee of allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture, and forced population transfers of non-Arabs. He said he also wanted to investigate charges that thousands of Iraqi schoolchildren, aged 12 to 17, were receiving military training in difficult conditions and that their parents were not allowed to visit them.

Mavrommatis stressed that he has made progress with Iraqi authorities over cooperation on human rights issues. He plans a second, lengthier trip to Iraq in the next few months and has received a positive response from Baghdad.

But Iraqi authorities, he said, are obliged to provide him with more information on issues raised by his first visit: "I would urge once more the Iraqi government to provide me with the additional information requested on the death penalty, to implement a moratorium on executions, and to put an end to all actions and policies which directly or indirectly encourage religious intolerance or any sort of discrimination -- including actions like Arabization. [I would also urge them] to abolish the special courts and assure that all legislation decrees and practices are consistent with Iraq's freely undertaken obligations under the covenants as well as other instruments."

An Iraqi representative told the UN committee that his government was committed to "eliminating all obstacles" to the enjoyment of basic freedoms of human rights. But he faulted Mavrommatis's report, saying it did not properly note the role of humanitarian suffering caused by 12 years of economic sanctions and the impact on human rights.

The Iraqi representative said Britain and the United States, in particular, were abusing Iraq's rights through their support of crippling sanctions and by patrolling no-fly zones over the country.

Mavrommatis said the most recent information compiled by the UN's oil-for-food program showed a general improvement in conditions for civilians. But he also urged the parties involved to make sure all contracts relating to the health and nutrition sectors be expedited.

The rapporteur said the only way to end the embargo and improve the lives of Iraqis was for the government to comply with UN Security Council resolutions on eliminating its weapons of mass destruction.

Council resolutions also call for Iraq to resolve the fate of more than 600 persons, mostly Kuwaitis, missing since the Gulf War. Mavrommatis told the committee Iraq should act quickly to resolve the issue: "I think that this is the time, Mr. Chairman, for the government of Iraq to act decisively on this issue and resolve this humanitarian problem and I do think this would be in the best interest of the country."

The rapporteur welcomed Iraq's agreement to return Kuwait's national archives seized during the Gulf War. Iraq last week said it finished the return, but Kuwaiti officials initially said the documents did not constitute the entire archives.