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Amnesty Appeals for Deployment of Human Rights Monitors in Iraq - 2003-03-13

The human rights group, Amnesty International, has renewed its appeal that it be allowed to deploy people to Iraq to monitor the human rights situation both now and after any possible war. The appeal came as the group prepared for the annual meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, which starts Monday.

The group's international law director Claudio Cordone says there is a human rights crisis in Iraq, which he says has a long history of torture and disappearances.

Expressing concern for potential new rights violations, should a conflict erupt in Iraq, Mr. Cordone says it is imperative for volunteers to be placed inside and around the country to monitor the human rights situation.

"Monitors have been deployed in various situations, including difficult ones whether it was Haiti [or] Kosovo before the war started," he said. "So it would not be exceptional. We do not expect them to be there when the bombs are falling, but we do want to make sure that whatever happens with Iraq, the issue of human rights is dealt with. Monitors now and monitors after any war is a key component of that."

Amnesty International says it fears that if there is a war, bloody reprisals could break out either from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein against Kurds and Shi'ite communities, or revenge killings by those groups towards members of the ruling Baa'th party.

Mr. Cordone says the situation in Iraq will likely figure prominently in the annual meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, which opens Monday in Geneva. He said the commission can not ignore the situation in Iraq.

Amnesty spokewoman Judit Arenas Licea says the organization will also be pressing the commission for censure of Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nepal for rights abuses in armed conflict situations. It will also seek condemnation of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority for continued violence.

And Ms. Arenas Licea says Amnesty International is placing special focus on Russia during the commission's hearings, particularly because of its military campaign in Chechnya. But she says there are also other concerns about Russia's human rights policies.

"We believe the situation is not restricted to that republic but actually goes wider," said Judit Arenas Licea. "For instance, anyone who comes into contact with the police in the Russian Federation, we believe, faces a very serious risk of being ill treated and tortured. Our research has shown that the main factor that contributes to this is actually the impunity that permeates the country."

Amnesty International also expressed concern about U.S. policy toward prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It says the detainees' undefined legal status is worrisome and it argues that legal safeguards found in the United States should be applied in Guantanamo as well.

Amnesty says it will be pressing this year for reforms of the U.N. Human Rights Commission - which critics charge has become a club for rights abusers. Libya will be chairing the commission this year. Amnesty International says changes must be made to ensure that the commission upholds its mandate to promote and protect human rights.