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UN says coalition troops violated rights in iraq { June 4 2004 }

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UN Says Coalition Troops Violated Rights in Iraq

Friday, June 4, 2004; 12:57 PM

By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations' top human rights official said on Friday U.S.-led occupation forces had committed "serious violations" of international humanitarian law in Iraq and had ill-treated ordinary Iraqis.

Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan said coalition troops were able to act with impunity and urged appointment of an independent figure to monitor their behavior.

In a report for the world body's Human Rights Commission, Ramcharan also indicated that U.S. male and female soldiers accused of gross abuses of detainees at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison could be guilty of war crimes.

"The serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law that have taken place (since U.S. and British troops invaded Iraq in March last year and ousted then president Saddam Hussein) must not be allowed to recur," the report declared.

"It is crucial that protection arrangements be strengthened as a matter of the utmost urgency," it said. An International Ombudsman or Commissioner to monitor respect for human rights in Iraq should be appointed "immediately."

It was, the report said, "a stark reality that there was no international oversight and accountability in respect of the situation that obtained in Iraq" since the invasion.

But the report, which asserted that "everyone accepts" that the U.S. and its allies intended their troops in Iraq to behave well, was criticized by Reed Brody, special counsel to the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch organization. REPORT "VERY LIGHT"

"It seems very light, and to bend over backwards to accept the good faith of the U.S.," he told Reuters by telephone. "I don't think it is the place of the U.N. human rights office to evaluate the intentions of a state or group of states."

The 45-page report cited one former Abu Ghraib detainee, Saddam Abood Al-Rawi, 29, as telling U.N. investigators he was subjected to 18 days of torture at the U.S.-run prison.

This included the pulling of teeth, kicking and beating and threats of rape, and warnings that he would be killed if he told a visiting international Red Cross team about his treatment.

In a Saddam jail where he had been a political prisoner, the report quoted him as saying, he suffered physical torture but under the occupation forces he was additionally subjected to "humiliation and mental cruelty."

Ramcharan, a British-trained barrister from Guyana and long-time U.N. official, suggested that among the more serious violations was the jailing of large numbers of Iraqis "without anyone knowing how many, for what reasons, for how long...and how they were being treated."

His report, submitted to U.S. and British officials for comment on Wednesday, cited Iraqis interviewed in Amman as speaking of "arbitrary arrests and detention as an ongoing phenomenon" since the invasion.

In a clear reference to the Abu Ghraib incidents, since when several U.S. soldiers working there have been detained, Ramcharan said "willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment" of detainees was a grave breach of international law.

Such acts "might be designated as war crimes by a competent tribunal," he added.

The only U.S. soldier to face court martial so far for his role in the Abu Ghraib abuses was sent to jail for one year.

The report said Saddam's ouster "must be counted a major contribution to human rights in Iraq." His government "was a brutal, murderous, torturing gang that preyed on its own people."

"Everyone accepts the good intentions of the Coalition governments as regards the behavior of their forces in Iraq," Ramcharan said. Iraq could now be "on the road to democracy, the rule of law, and governance that is respectful of human rights."

Ramcharan's spokesman, Jose Luis Diaz, denied there had been any outside effort to have the report watered down. "There was no pressure on this office," he told Reuters.

2004 Reuters

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