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Amnesty Int'l: Human Rights in Iraq Still a Distant Promise - 2004-03-18

Amnesty International says, one year after the war in Iraq began, improved human rights for the Iraqi people is still a distant promise.

While acknowledging that some progress has been made in the past year and people are free to express their views, Amnesty International says Iraqis still suffer from serious human rights violations.

The London-based human rights organization says the toll of civilian deaths remains very high and Iraq is a dangerous place to live. "Some of these concerns obviously include the growing number of civilians killed either by the coalition forces or by armed groups," explained Said Bourmedouha, a spokesman for the organization. "There is not any official estimate as to the exact number of people who have been killed but there are definitely thousands of people who have been killed."

He said coalition forces are holding at least 8,500 suspects in conditions that do not comply with international human rights norms. "Most of these detainees have not been charged or tried and have been held in difficult conditions," said Mr. Bourmedouha. "Some, or many, have not had access to lawyers or families for months since their arrests."

He said the rights of Iraqi women are largely being ignored. "Many women have been targeted for killing, rape, abduction, and also there have been a lot of harassment from armed Islamist groups against women," added the spokesman, "and so the security situation there really has not changed. On the contrary, it keeps getting worse."

A major poll released earlier this week found that, while most Iraqis say security is their number one concern, most feel they are better off today than they were before the war.

Amnesty said it welcomes a statement by British and Italian foreign ministers Thursday that they support a greater role for the United Nations in Iraq, especially after the interim government assumes power at the end of June.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq is fighting on the side of the Iraqi people. "Most of the victims of this terrorism allegedly directed against the coalition are people from Iraq, Iraqi citizens trying to go about their ordinary life," said Mr. Straw, "and that is why we have a common purpose in fighting this terrorism with the Iraqi people, with the Afghan people, with the peoples wherever they are affected."

Amnesty said protecting human rights and building a credible judicial and penal system should be a central part of the efforts to rebuild Iraq. Failure to bring security and justice to Iraqis, the organization said, would be a betrayal of the Iraqi people.