Following 13 years of UN imposed disastrous sanctions that qualified as genocide1, with the complicity of the UN Security Council (UNSC) — its failure to act to protect the people and State of Iraq2, or fulfill its own obligations3 — the US illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq4 has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe unequalled since World War II5.
In addition to having caused the violent deaths of more than one million Iraqis6, 2.3 million Iraqis have been displaced within their own country while over two million more are scattered mainly in neighboring states7. The Iraqi Red Crescent Society reports that in October 2007 alone 368,479 Iraqis were uprooted from their homes inside Iraq8, while an estimated 60,000 Iraqis flee the country to neighboring states on a monthly basis9.
The modern Iraqi educated middle class, whose role is needed — now and in the future — to run the state, the economy, and build Iraqi culture, has been decimated. Following systematic assassinations10, imprisonment11, military raids and sieges12, threats and discrimination13, most of what remains of that class has left the country14. The absence of this middle class has resulted in the breakdown of all public services for the entirety of Iraqi society.
All information coming from Iraq shows that fear for life imposed on Iraqis is the cause of the displacement of millions inside and outside their country. Displaced Iraqis are refugees by definition and according to international law . The 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 additional protocol stipulate that a refugee is any person “who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country.”16
Iraqi refugees have the right to life and dignity17
The US-led occupation and the governments it has installed are legally duty-bound under international humanitarian law — by the Fourth Geneva Convention and its additional protocols — and by UNSC Resolutions 1265, 1296 and 1674 to protect civilian lives in Iraq and provide for basic needs18. Instead, the occupation and the governments it instituted are imposing a state of terror by resorting to disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force19 and by implementing such sectarian policies as sponsoring sectarian militias that perpetrate ethnic cleansing20. They remain unable or unwilling to provide even the most basic services, including adequate access to water and electricity21. These policies are forcing millions to live in poverty and/or flee for their lives.
Neither the occupation and the governments it has installed, nor individual states and the international community22 have met their legal and moral obligations towards displaced Iraqis or the countries hosting them23. While the living conditions of Iraqis are deteriorating, they become a social, financial and economic burden on the host countries, several of which already have large refugee populations24.
Iraqi refugees have a right to security, recognized passports and residence visas, food, shelter, health and education. Host countries cannot afford to place the large number of Iraqi refugee youth into schools and higher education. If no urgent measures are taken to find a solution for this problem, then a generation of Iraqis will lose their universal right of access to education25. This is not only harmful to Iraqi refugees, but also to the future of Iraq. It is urgent that pupils and students have access to schools. Aiding host countries to meet the needs of Iraqi refugees would also result in enhancing and mobilizing the rich potential the refugees have.
A solution is needed urgently. The real answer is the end of the causes of violence in Iraq, to allow Iraqi refugees to return safely to their homes. However, although protecting civilians from violence, according to international humanitarian law, is the responsibility of the occupation and the governments it has installed26, there are no signs that they are fulfilling this duty. Daily, violence on civilians spreads to new regions. The fact that an exodus is taking place is proof that the government in Iraq, supported by the occupation, does not protect the population.
The UNSC should pass a resolution, now
The UNSC has the legal and political power to pass a resolution demanding that the Iraqi state allocate part of the revenue from Iraqi oil — in proportion with the number of Iraqi citizens temporarily displaced — for Iraqi refugees in hosting countries . No legal objection can be raised against such an action. Iraqi refugees are Iraqi citizens28. They have a right to benefit from national resources29 and to claim the necessities of protection and support from the Iraqi state. Their right of return is guaranteed30.
A precedent in jurisprudence for such an action exists concerning Iraq, with UNSC Resolution 986 of 199531. This resolution, too, was passed on humanitarian grounds. It required the Iraqi state to provide part of Iraqi revenues to the UN Inter-Agency Humanitarian Program in order “to ensure equitable distribution of humanitarian relief to all segments of Iraqi society”, including to Iraqi citizens who were residing in the three Northern governorates, which were not administratively supervised by the central government32. Current Iraqi refugees are in the same situation of being outside the supervision of the central government governing Iraq.
The responsibility of states towards refugees is established in international law33. Obliging the Iraqi state, by way of a UNSC resolution, to allocate proportionate revenue to displaced Iraqi citizens is the only efficient way for the country of origin and the international community to fulfill their obligations towards both Iraqi refugees and hosting countries while preserving the rights of refugees and their dignity as Iraqi citizens. UN relief agencies, hosting country institutions, non-governmental organizations and Iraqi refugee representatives could monitor the distribution of the allocated revenue.
Call for action
Displaced and refugee Iraqis cannot wait until they can return home for their essential needs to be met. The international community has the moral obligation to act now. UNSC Resolution 986 of 1995 established that Iraqi oil revenue is for all Iraqis. As Iraqi citizens, Iraqi refugees have equal rights to share in the wealth of Iraq.
We call upon all governments, UN agencies and organizations, law, human rights and humanitarian associations, and all people of conscience to work together towards ensuring that the UNSC adopt and implement this proposal of obliging the Iraqi state to allocate oil revenues for Iraqi refugees.
We demand that states — particularly those involved in the illegal invasion and destruction of Iraq — fulfill their obligations and responsibilities and provide necessary funding for the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) mission of protecting displaced Iraqis34.
We call upon all to raise funds and take all measures to provide direct aid to Iraqi refugees and the organizations helping them.
Humanity is in distress in Iraq. Our moral responsibility is to save it. Join us.
Hans von Sponeck, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq
Denis Halliday, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (1997-1998), Ireland.
Ms. Niloufer Bhagwat, Advocate, Vice President of the Indian Association of Lawyers.
Mathias Chang, 37 years in the antiwar movement, Malaysia.
Sabah Al-Mukhtar, President Arab Lawyers Association, UK.
Issam Al-Chalabi, Former Iraqi Oil Minister, Iraq-Jordan.
Saeed .H. Hassan, Former Iraqi Permanent Representative to the UN, Iraq -Egypt.
Dr Curtis F J Doebbler, Professor of law, at Najah National University, Nablus, Palestine.
Dirk Adriaensens, Member Executive Committee BRussells Tribunal, Belgium.
Dahr Jamail, Independent Journalist, Author of “Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq”, USA.
Paola Manduca, Geneticist and Antiwar Activist, New Weapons, Italy.
Bert De Belder, M.D., Coordinator, Medical Aid for the Third World, Belgium.
Mohammed Aref, Science Writer, Advisor for ‘Arab Science&Technology Foundation’, UAE.
Abdul Ilah Albayaty, Writer, Iraqi Political Analyst, Iraq-France.
Dr Ian Douglas, Writer, Egypt.
Hana Al Bayaty, Iraqi International Initiative Coordinator, France-Iraq / Egypt.
1 See Indictment, Complaint and Petition on behalf of 4.5 million Iraqi Children , by Professor Francis Boyle, September 1991; World Heath Organization report on annual mortality rates and excess deaths of children under five in Iraq, 1991-98; and A Different Kind of War: The UN Sanctions Regime in Iraq, (Berghahn Books: New York, September 2006) by Hans C Von Sponeck, former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq who resigned in protest in February 2000. Sponeck’s predecessor, Denis Halliday, resigned in October 1998 after a 34-year UN career saying “I don’t want to administer a program that satisfies the definition of genocide.” See also US Genocide in Iraq by Dr Ian Douglas with Abdul Ilah Albayaty and Hana Al Bayaty, published by The BRussells Tribunal, June 2007.
2 The UNSC — in particular the veto-wielding permanent members — failed to prevent the US/UK illegal war of aggression on Iraq and to censure UN member states that participated in that war of aggression. In failing to prevent this violation of international law, or appeal against the war of aggression, the UNSC violated the UN Charter. On 8 June 2004, the UNSC compounded this abnegation of its responsibilities, further failing the people of Iraq, by adopting UNSC Resolution 1546 in which it appealed to member states to assist an illegal and sectarian US-imposed Iraqi government that daily violates human rights. Article 41(2) of the International Law Commission’s Draft Articles on State Responsibility, representing customary international law and adopted in UN General Assembly Resolution 56/83 of 28 January 2002 (“Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts”), prevents states from benefiting from their own illegal acts: “No state shall recognize as lawful a situation created by a serious breach [of an obligation arising under a peremptory norm of general international law]” (emphasis added). See also Section III, UN General Assembly Resolution 36/103 of 14 December 1962, “Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States”. The UNSC also failed in its duty to protect by remaining silent as Order #1 of US civil administrator Paul Bremer, overseeing the “de-Baathification” of Iraqi society, flagrantly breached protected human rights; while the destruction of Fallujah by coalition forces in November 2004 constituted collective punishment, war crimes and crimes against humanity; and while the US-established Iraqi Special Tribunal flagrantly breached the laws of war and the 1949 Third Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War leading to summary executions after unfair trails.
3 The obligations of the UNSC are defined by chapters I and V of the UN Charter
4 The 1950 Nuremberg Principles list “crimes against peace” as first among crimes imputable under international law, defined as: “(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances; (ii) Participation of a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).” On 16 September 2004, then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the BBC that the US-led invasion of Iraq was an illegal act that contravened the UN Charter. See also US illegality in Iraq: Where is the Limit?, The BRussells Tribunal, March 2006, and Only Resistance is Legal, published by The BRussells Tribunal, October 2006.
5 The UNHCR in an appeal of 8 January 2007 noted that the current Iraqi exodus is the largest long-term population movement in the region since the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
6 In addition to the cluster-sample estimate made by The Lancet medical journal, which put the number of Iraqis who died from violent deaths as of July 2006 at a minimum of 655,000, the data of a poll conducted in Iraq by Opinion Business Research released in September 2007 suggests a total of 1,220,580 deaths since the invasion in 2003.
7 UNHCR report Statistics on displaced Iraqis around the world, September 2007.
8 AFP release of 5 November 2007.
9 UNHCR report Statistics on displaced Iraqis around the world, September 2007. This report includes numbers of Iraqis displaced under the UN-administered sanctions regime, as well as internally displaced peoples and externally displaced peoples since the 2003 illegal invasion of Iraq.
10 See List of assassinated Iraqi academics, compiled and published by The BRussells Tribunal; List of assassinated Iraqi media professionals, compiled and published by The BRussells Tribunal; Four years into the occupation: No health for Iraq, report by Dr Bert de Belder, published by The BRussells Tribunal, 21 March 2007; List of assassinated Imams and mosques workers, compiled and published by The BRussells Tribunal; and Iraqi killing fields, BRussells Tribunal. See also the UN IRIN News Agency report on threats against lawyers. In April 2006 IRIN News reported more than 300,000 widows in Baghdad alone, with 90 newly widowed daily countrywide. While addressing Rotarians in a speech broadcast by C-SPAN 5 September 2007, Samir Sumaidaie, Iraqi Ambassador to the US, stated that there were 500,000 new widows in Iraq.
12 See Global Policy’s War and Occupation in Iraq report, chapter 6, Attacks on Cities, revised in June 2007. Most Iraqi cities are under siege, with Baghdad divided into walled-in communities. Among other “gated communities” are Tel Afar, Fallujah, Al Qaim, Samarra, Yathreb, Haditha, Hit and Khalidiyah. See Their Next Massacre and This Wall is their Grave, published by The BRussells Tribunal, respectively on 28 November 2006 and 25 April 2007.
13 See UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, Human Rights Report, 1 April – 30 June 2007.
14 The UNHCR in an appeal of 8 January 2007 noted that 40 per cent of the Iraqi middle class has fled the country.
15 See Resolution on the Humanitarian Situation of Iraqi Refugees of the European Parliament, 12 July 2007.
16 Article 1 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
17 See articles 1, 3, 22 and 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed by UN General Assembly Resolution 217 A (III), 10 December 1948.
18 See article 111 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War on occupied territories.
19 See Global Policy’s October 2006 War and Occupation in Iraq report chapter 3, Indiscriminate and Especially Injurious Weapons chapter 6, Attacks on Cities chapter 7, Killing Civilians, Murder and Atrocities and; War Crimes Committed by the United States in Iraq and Mechanisms for Accountability, October 2006.
20 All the sectarian groups participating in the US-supported Iraqi government have their own militias, many of which were integrated into the so-called Iraqi security forces. US security contractors, the Iraqi police, army, and ministry guards have participated with the US army in persecuting their opponents. Financing come directly or indirectly with the complicity of the government.
21 Oxfam and NCCI report, Rising to the Humanitarian Challenge in Iraq, July 2007. The report states that the number of Iraqis without adequate supplies of water has risen from 50 per cent to 70 per cent since 2003, and that most homes in Baghdad and other cities receive only two hours of electricity per day.
22 By “international community” we include governments, international organisations and associations, and civil society actors.
23 See the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. An overview of definition and obligations can be found here. See also General Assembly Resolutions relating to refugees and the UNHCR.
24 See UNHCR release Syria and Jordan still wait for help despite pledges made at Iraq meeting, UNHCR Briefing Notes, 6 July 2007, Iraq displacement: Generous host countries left in the lurch, and IRIN News, 6 July 2007, and Aid agencies struggle to support over two million displaced Iraqis, 11 November 2007.
25 See article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
26 See articles 54 and 64 of the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in the Time of War.
27 See chapter 5, article 25, of the UN Charter.
28 See section Schedule, paragraph 15 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
29 See UN General Assembly Resolution 1803 (XVII), 14 December 1962, “Permanent Sovereignty over Natural Resources”.
30 See the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, also reiterated by UN General Assembly Resolutions of 21 December 1995, 12 December 1996, 12 December 1997 and 18 December 2002. See Responsibility for Refugees (pdf).
31 See UNSC Resolution 986, 14 April 1995.
32 In 1991, Turkey shut its borders to the flow of refugees coming mainly from Northern Iraq, refusing to apply the jus cogens principle of “non-refoulement” (prohibition on the expulsion of refugees to an area where they may face persecution). As a consequence, the UNSC, realizing this principle wasn’t sufficient to protect the refugee population, passed resolution 688, adding political solutions into the equation of refugee protection. Resolution 688 required the State of Iraq to allow the UNHCR to work inside its territory and set up a “security zone” in Northern Iraq. This decision began a new practice in refugee law protection. In 1995, Resolution 986 allocated part of national Iraqi resources to the population not under the authority of the Iraqi government (3 northern governorates). Resolution 1314 and 1325 further emphasized the tendency in international jurisprudence on the protection of refugee populations to insist on the responsibility of states to assist civilians, including refugees and the displaced. These resolutions created a legal precedent that obliges and allows the UNSC to draft a resolution requiring the allocation of a proportionate part of Iraqi oil revenues to current Iraqi refugees, so as to protect their human rights and in the knowledge that Iraqi oil is the property of all Iraqis, inside or outside Iraq. This tendency is reflected by UNHCR appeals and the final declaration (pdf) of the World Summit in 2005.
33 See the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
34 The government of Iraq has allocated only $25 million for Iraqi refugees while its national revenues amount to billions of dollars.