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UN human rights chief makes fresh appeal to protect civilians in Iraq

UN human rights chief makes fresh appeal to protect civilians in Iraq

Sergio Vieira de Mello
Expressing increasing concern for the welfare of the people of Iraq, the top United Nations human rights official issued a fresh appeal today to all parties to respect fundamental civil liberties and observe meticulous precautions in protecting civilians.

“I repeat this because it can never be said enough – not least while we continue to see, in conflict after conflict, civilians bearing the brunt of the violence,” Sergio Vieira de Mello, High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva shortly after it decided not to hold a special sitting on the impact of the current conflict in Iraq.

Stressing that the Iraqi people had suffered human rights abuse for many years as well as the results of sanctions, Mr. Vieira de Mello said: “That they are facing, and have for some time faced, the most difficult, dreadful plight is beyond dispute.”

He warned that parties must never attack the civilian population or civilian objects, even if the aim is to strike a military target and human shields are being used, and that states must never use “such an abhorrent practice as intentionally placing civilians in harm's way.”

And he cautioned that states must never use weapons that are incapable of distinguishing between civilians and the military. “Tragic experience demonstrates that the precision of modern weapons, particularly at long range, is not reliable, not least in densely populated, urban areas,” he declared.

“So let me state quite clearly here, and this is an appeal, a strong, urgent appeal: If there is any doubt at all, restraint and refrain must be the watchwords. In other words, do not attack that particular target.”

Shortly before Mr. Vieira de Mello’s message, the Commission rejected a request from several members to hold a special sitting on Iraq by 25 votes against to 18 in favour and 7 abstentions. Three countries were absent. The reasons given by several of those who voted against was that the Commission was not the proper forum for such a discussion and that the matter was in the hands of the Security Council.