A colleague sent me a Reuters story that so mangles a UNHCR report on the human rights situation in Iraq that I don/’t know whether to laugh or cry. The gist of the Reuters story is:
While crediting the United States for ending the “shocking and systematic” human rights abuses that occurred under Saddam Hussein, Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, said that the occupation forces had mistreated many ordinary Iraqis, and called for an ombudsman to monitor their behavior.
Referring to incidents of prisoner abuse by US soldiers and contractors at Abu Ghraib, Ramcharan said “willful killing, torture, or ill treatment” of detainees was a grave breach of international law. Such acts, he added, “might be designated as war crimes by a competent tribunal.” One US soldier has pleaded guilty in connection with the incidents and sentenced to a year in jail. But American personnel are unlikely to be tried in an international tribunal because the United States has not signed on to the International Criminal Court.
Sensational, but not really what the UNHCR report says, which is much more circumspect:
Willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, if committed against detainees protected by international humanitarian law constitute a grave breach under the Geneva Conventions and therefore of international humanitarian law and is prohibited at any time, irrespective of the status of the person detained. The above-described acts might be designated as war crimes by a competent tribunal. The requirement that protected persons must at all times be humanly treated is a basic pillar of the Geneva Conventions. The detaining authorities are bound to put in place all those measures that may pre-empt the perpetration of torture as well as any inhuman and degrading treatment. All State Parties are obliged to exercise jurisdiction to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators.
The report does detail human rights abuses by Coalition Forces in Iraq, but the report lauds the efforts of the Coalition Authorities: “Whatever the failures of control and protection that occurred in respect of detainees, it is important to recognize that once the scandal of the treatment of detainees broke into the open, Coalition leaders at the highest levels denounced the abuses and ordered investigations and prosecutions of those responsible.”
The last sentence in the Reuters story is infuriating: “American personnel are unlikely to be tried in an international tribunal because the United States has not signed on to the International Criminal Court.” It is both gratuitous (the report makes no mention of the ICC) and misleading (the ICC would not have jurisdiction over these abuses, because 1. The abuses were not committed as an act of policy, and 2. The US has the option to prosecute American personnel itself, which it is doing). Deep breaths.