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Iraq Struggles with Human Rights Issues - 2004-07-13


According to Iraq's minister of human rights, the former government of Saddam Hussein conditioned Iraqis to accept human rights violations and to engage in them. The minister is concerned that Iraq's new security forces and the public at large have not received enough education regarding human rights.

While battling militants in Iraq is the interim government's top priority, there is another battle being waged, which government officials say is equally important. It is the battle against human-rights abuses that Human Rights Minister Bahktiar Amin says have become a "learned behavior" among Iraqis.

"No matter in this country or the Middle East, we have a negative culture which is dominant in terms of using power by security forces, by military forces. And, Iraq has also had decades of a terrible record in terms of human-rights violations and crimes," he explained. "And, our forces are still not well-educated in principles of human rights and international humanitarian law, conventions against torture, the investigative methodology of civilized countries, which have had decades, and some of them centuries of practices of democratic values and democratic rules. Here, we have not had that."

Last week, the Iraqi interim government approved a security law to allow curfews, expanded powers to conduct door-to-door searches, and increased authority to arrest anyone considered suspicious. Iraq's human rights minister says his office will be closely monitoring security forces to prevent acts of abuse and human rights violations.

Minister Amin says while security forces have received some human rights training, it has not been enough. That is why he says he is worried some Iraqi security forces may behave as they did under Saddam Hussein. And he says the wounds of the former regime are still so fresh, some Iraqis would accept abuse as normal behavior. That, he says, is what must change.

"The former regime tried constantly to destroy the personality of the Iraqis," he added. "To rebuild that personality, to rehabilitate them, this is a monumental task and we need international support in doing that and make those who are against the Iraqi people, who are against democracy, who are against civilized values to fail. We have to succeed. We have no other choices. Otherwise, a failure would have a terrible repercussion on the international and regional peace and security."

Mr. Amin says the "new" Iraq must never repeat the abuses of the past. And, his office has been given broad powers to crack down on human-rights violations.

"We hope that those involved in the implementation of the law will make us proud," he said. "And, those who will not, I assure from my side that I will be after them, denouncing them. I will be investigating any wrongdoings, any abuses of anyone.

To do anything less, says Mr. Amin, would make all that has been fought for meaningless.

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