Building support for the new Iraq
Who we are
What we do
How you can be involved
December 03, 2006
Ann Clwyd lecture at Wellesley College, Boston
In a powerful lecture, Ann Clwyd, the Prime Ministerial Envoy to Iraq on Human Rights and Joint President of LFIQ outlines how she came to be involved for 30 years in solidarity work with the victims of Saddam Hussein, the pioneering work of the Campaign Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq, the work of INDICT and why solidarity with Iraqi democrats is still vital.
There is much material here which should not be forgotten but this is a particularly gruesome illustration of the barbarity of the Baathist regime: Ann writes “A Kurdish friend of mine showed me an index card for a man working for the Iraqi security services, file number, 43304. It identified his activity as, ‘violation of women’s honour’. In other words, he was an official rapist, employed by the regime to crush prisoners, their families and communities.”
Speech by the Rt. Hon Ann Clwyd MP on the occasion of the
"Bring back Saddam" ...? Human Rights in Iraq and Beyond'
It is a great honour to be here today.
I know that Wellesley has a great tradition of producing strong woman leaders – from astronauts to journalists to ambassadors. Who knows, perhaps the first female President may be a Wellesley alumni!
On a visit to the US in the early 1980s, I gave lectures all round the country talking about the work of the European Union, in my role as an elected Member of the Socialist Group of the European Parliament.
The one piece of advice I was given was – whatever you do, don’t mention the word Socialist. Otherwise they’ll think you’re a red under the bed! Of course I did say I was a socialist! But everyone was very polite, as they have been on every visit to the US.
The United States is one of the greatest democracies in the world; a country with a long and proud tradition of intervening to bring about democratic change and pursuing human rights.
Jimmy Carter observed:
“though America did not invent human rights . . . in a very real sense, human rights invented America.”
Some may argue whether an American interpretation of human rights has always been in the world’s best interests.
But the rights we claim for ourselves, places a duty on us to demand them, for those who do not yet enjoy them.
The fact we are often witnesses in our homes, to some of the worst atrocities, in graphic detail, on our televisions, means we have even less excuse to ignore it.
The American people helped to ensure that when Europe was descending into fascism in the 1930s and 1940s, that their assistance halted that process.
When no one intervened in Germany, in the 1930s, and we allowed the German state to slide into Hitler’s grip, it ultimately cost millions of lives. After the war, when we were able to look back, we realised the horrific consequences of standing back, and staying silent.
As the Pastor Martin Niemoller, a prominent anti-Nazi theologian, said:
In Iraq, there were few left to speak out, and that’s how I first became involved. This was with the help of countless others, who had either been expelled or who had fled Iraq to avoid being silenced.
Throughout the last thirty years, I’ve tried to raise awareness, and help bring an end to widespread and systematic human rights violations in Iraq, including the crime of genocide, from the time the Ba’ath Party came to power.
Iraq under Saddam was horrific.
In 1992, I was at the UN when the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iraq, Max Van der Stoel, told the audience that:
“The violations of human rights which have occurred, are so grave and of such a massive nature, that since the Second World War, few parallels can be found.”
I want to show how my involvement with Iraq helped make a difference - first of all working at grassroots; as I did in the 1980s with the Campaign Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq, known as CARDRI.
Reports of terror and repression in Iraq, in late 1978, led many British parliamentarians and others, to sponsor the formation of CARDRI. Our aim was to expose the brutality of the regime, and develop solidarity with those in Iraq, struggling for human and democratic rights.
Later, in the 1990s, I helped found the organisation called INDICT.
INDICT was actually funded by the United States, under the Iraq Liberation Act (1998). Its purpose was "to establish a program to support a transition to democracy in Iraq". It was supported by Americans of all political parties.
INDICT aimed to use the legal powers of individual European states, to try and bring indictments against leading members of the Iraqi regime. It apparently could not be done in the US because of the statute of limitations.
It is hard to imagine now, when Iraq has filled our television screens, and acres of newsprint, every day, for over three years, that back in the 1970s, there was very little awareness of the repressive nature of the regime in Iraq.
At that time, I was working as a journalist in Wales, and became friendly with a young Iraqi couple – Jamal and Selma. Jamal had fled Iraq from Basra, after being imprisoned and tortured as a student activist.
But the violent and frightening nature of the regime, was really brought home to me when Selma and Jamal’s 6 year old son, was the victim of a kidnapping attempt by Saddam’s regime, when he was playing in a quiet residential street in Cardiff.
In 1984 I became chair of CARDRI – the Campaign Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq. It was a grassroots organisation of students, trade unionists and others that used the power of its voluntary membership to highlight the plight of the people of Iraq.
These rights were defined in the Declaration of Independence as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. They can be seen as a pre-cursor of what we understand today as human rights.
This torch was taken forward by President Woodrow Wilson, with his search for a new world order after the end of the First World War. He emphasised collective security, democracy, and self-determination, rather than the traditional great power politics.
Woodrow Wilson’s vision was undermined when the Senate rejected membership of the League of Nations. As you know, the US then retreated into isolationism during the inter-war years.
During, and after the Second World War, the United States valiantly took up the torch again, leading to the creation of a new era of human rights. Your country was a driving force behind the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has thirty principles, but it might be useful to remind ourselves of six core values:
The right to life without fear of violence, sponsored or tolerated by the state.
The right to liberty, and freedom from arrest, without due process of law.
The right to freedom, from torture or cruel or inhumane treatment.
The right to freedom, of thought and self expression.
The right to practice, the religion of one’s own choice.
The right to take part, in the government of his or her country through democratic procedures.
As Eleanor Roosevelt put it at that time:
“Basically we could not have peace, or an atmosphere in which peace could grow, unless we recognized the rights of individual human beings... and agreed that [that] was the basic thing that had to be accepted throughout the world.
The world should be grateful for America’s contribution. As Prime Minister Tony Blair, said earlier this week: ‘We need America. That is a fact’.
Since World War II, inter-governmental bodies and non-governmental bodies, such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, have proliferated.
Many of these monitor the observance of human rights law in specific countries. They produce reports, which are then used to lobby for change.
So, governments should have to do more than simply sign and ratify international and regional human rights conventions, which set standards.
They have to make those rights a reality and they should be called to account if they fail.
It is often very, very hard to accept that governments, para-military organisations, and rebel movements, made up of human beings just like us, can descend to the levels of depravity which took place in Cambodia, Uganda, East Timor and Rwanda, Iraq and now Sudan.
I myself can remember doubting the accounts of the horrors of torture and abuse told by exiles from Iraq.
Once I had become aware of the terrible continuing violations in Iraq, I felt compelled to let others know, and to let the Iraqi Government know, that their actions were not going unnoticed.
I shall never forget standing on the mountains of Iran and Iraq in 1991 and seeing the helpless Kurds, struggle in the sleet and snow, terrorised by Saddam’s helicopter gunships.
Later, in 2003 after the fall of the regime, I was able to visit the non-Kurdish areas of Iraq for the first time.
On one visit, I stood at the edge of the mass graves in al-Hilla, near Baghdad, and saw them being excavated. It was like standing on a moonscape. The forensic scientists estimated that 10,000 to 15,000 bodies were buried there. Elderly Shia women, dressed in black, were going around the graves with plastic bags looking for remains, trying to identify their loved ones by a scrap of clothing, or some personal item.
As far as we know, CARDRI was the only pressure group in the world that continually highlighted the excesses of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Many of our members were Iraqi exiles, fleeing the regime. Some of them returned to Iraq in 2003. I always meet ex-CARDRI members, when I visit Baghdad – including the Foreign Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, to name only two.
CARDRI had members all over the world. The organisation produced regular newsletters, published books, lobbied parliamentarians, and picketed the Iraqi Embassy in London – you name it, we did it.
News of our activities filtered back to Saddam’s ‘Republic of Fear’. I was reminded of this when I met representatives of the Iraqi free trade unions in Baghdad, two years ago.
I held up a CARDRI newsletter from the 1980s with an article on Saddam’s brutal repression of unions. They said to me, “We used to hand that out, translated into Arabic, on the streets of Baghdad”.
We in CARDRI did not know it at the time, but our actions brought some comfort and solidarity, to the beleaguered human rights activists in Iraq.
They knew they had not been forgotten by the rest of the world, that their suffering was not being ignored.
The Kurdish town of Halabja, then also became more widely known as an example of Saddam’s brutality. The bombing of Halabja eventually became notorious for the deaths of children and adults, suffocated and poisoned by a series of gas attacks.
In addition, 40 other Kurdish villages were attacked with chemical weapons, and 2,000 villages razed to the ground. House, after house, flattened. Family, after family, forced to flee.
The Kurds claim that 182,000 people were killed during the two years of the Anfal campaign.
When Ali Hassan al-Majid, widely known as ‘Chemical Ali’, the military commander with sole responsibility for the area, was confronted with this figure, he is recorded as saying:
“What is this exaggerated figure of 182,000? It couldn’t have been more than 100,000.”
At the time though, I am afraid that our visits to lobby the then Iraqi Ambassador in London did not change anything. We were a constant irritant. One which they could have done without.
Our attempts to lobby other Governments, in Britain, the US and Europe, also fell on deaf ears. They did not want to know and when they knew, they did not seem to care. Trade and diplomatic niceties continued.
The US Ambassador to Iraq in the 1980s, April Glaspie, even praised Saddam’s “remarkably moderate and mollifying mode of presentation” when discussing with Saddam the ‘alleged’ gassing of the Kurds in the North.
Meanwhile, the international community, including Britain and the US, continued to supply Saddam with arms, with funding, and with international, and domestic, credibility.
The problem, up until the end of the 1980s, was that the world was seen almost exclusively through the prism of the Cold War.
Superpowers, and other states, were often unwilling to take action to stop even the worst crimes against humanity – including genocide – being committed.
Either because they wanted to keep their friends at all costs, or because they didn’t want to run the risk of escalation.
They are necessary but not sufficient.
However, the fall of the communist bloc countries heralded a new dawn.
International criminal justice, as we now know it, had its antecedents in the Nuremberg trials, after the Second World War. Leaders of the Nazi regime were brought before an international court, to account for the atrocities which they had helped to mastermind and carry out.
Ironically perhaps today, in the light of the US’s opposition to the International Criminal Court, it was Truman who insisted on legal justice for the Nazis on trial, stating that:
“undiscriminating executions, or punishments without definite findings of guilt, fairly arrived at, would not sit easily on the American conscience”.
With the end of the Cold War, international criminal justice again became a real possibility.
If the international community could ensure international criminals who had committed atrocities would be punished, other dictators in the making would be deterred.
So, INDICT was born.
INDICT campaigned for the prosecution of the leading members of Saddam’s regime.
One INDICT witness statement showed the level of depravity of the regime. He told us:
"There was a machine designed for shredding plastic. Men were dropped into it and we were again made to watch. Sometimes they went in head first and died quickly.
Sometimes they went in feet first and died screaming. It was horrible. I saw 30 people die like this. Their remains would be placed in plastic bags and we were told they would be used as fish food...on one occasion, I saw Qusay [KOO-SAY] [one of Saddam’s sons] personally supervise these murders."
There were many other such gruesome accounts.
As the Ba’athist security services fled Iraqi Kurdistan, they left behind tons of documents that provided meticulous detail of the brutality meted out to opponents of the regime.
A Kurdish friend of mine showed me an index card for a man working for the Iraqi security services, file number, 43304. It identified his activity as, ‘violation of women’s honour’. In other words, he was an official rapist, employed by the regime to crush prisoners, their families and communities.
I myself opened the first genocide museum in Iraq, in February 2003, in an old secret police headquarters in Iraq Kurdistan .
I remember . . . . It was dark, it was snowing. People had come from all over the area. Their relatives – men, women and children - had died, in that huge torture chamber. Inside the museum were many photographs: images of skulls and bodies, shreds of clothing, a shining earring, and other personal items. One old woman came up to me with a piece of plastic and pushed it into my hand. I unwrapped it and saw three photographs. They were of her husband and two sons who had died there. I just felt the tears run down my face.
Prisoners had written things on the cell walls. Sometimes the writing was in blood. Sometimes it was just marks, crossing off the days of the week.
Inside one cell was a statue of a Peshmerga, the name for Kurdish freedom fighters. The face was turned up towards a small grid at the top of the cell. Those who knew him said he was always searching for the light. But he died in that place. It became his tomb.
Such first-hand stories made the work of INDICT vital.
However, investigations were not only restricted to those still inside Iraq. Wherever witnesses were available, anywhere in the world, statements were collected.
At the end of the 7 year process, evidence of the highest standard had been collected, in 15 countries, for use in the courts.
We at INDICT were later told by an eminent international lawyer, that, short of getting Saddam to sign a confession in his own blood, we had all the evidence we needed to bring prosecutions. It was possible to indict him for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
However, there was a gap between the evolving body of international law, and political will.
Some thought that indicting leading members of Saddam’s regime was pie in the sky.
Efforts that I made to bring an indictment in the UK, against the then Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, were ridiculed in the newspapers.
The Sun, the biggest selling daily newspaper in the UK, published a cartoon of a British policeman beckoning to Saddam Hussein – ‘Hey, come with me’.
I still believe that the indictment of leading regime figures could have curtailed their activities. Saddam’s senior officials, such as Barzan al-Tikriti and Tariq Aziz, continued to travel abroad.
Indictments would have humiliated the regime. They would have weakened Saddam’s authority and credibility throughout much of the Middle East
It is also not widely understood, that as late as 2003, Iraqis continued to be terrorised by Saddam’s regime.
Ineffective sanctions and more international pressure in the 1990s had NOT ended the atrocities.
In the winter of 1994-5, CARDRI News also reported that Max Van Der Stoel, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iraq, had recently condemned the ‘amputation decrees’.
Such amputees would include young soldiers, who would have their ears cut off, accused of desertion. These men would be denied medical treatment in the aftermath of their horrific ‘operation’. I recently met some of these men, who are maimed for life, in Baghdad.
But despite the continuing abuses, we never got the indictments.
Even though I repeatedly raised the matter of indictments in the House of Commons.
Even though I went to four European countries for talks with their justice departments to try and persuade them to act.
I remain very saddened by this, because I do believe if we had acted, war might have been avoided.
I never wanted another war in Iraq.
But given the failure of the other policies, it was with reluctance that I decided to support military intervention.
By the beginning of 2003, even my Kurdish friends had told me there was no alternative. I was in Iraqi Kurdistan in February 2003, before the war; the population was preparing, in a panic, for a chemical attack – they were even buying diapers to use as rudimentary gas masks.
So, war was the last resort.
The 1990s witnessed a resurgence of military intervention by the international community, in countries where there were widespread international crimes being committed. For example, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, and Sierra Leone. Since the end of the Cold War, US-led international coalitions have intervened about once very two years.
There has been criticism, justified criticism, in my view, of some of the operations which have taken place. There has also very valid criticism of the operations which have not taken place.
I think, however, that we have to recognise that humanitarian intervention will not always be a realistic option.
But when it is possible to intervene militarily, I believe that we have to think about how we can generate the will and the ability, within the international community, to do so.
Of course, ideally, the UN Security Council should approve the legal basis upon which such intervention is undertaken.
What happens, however, when it is not forthcoming?
At least 400,000 people have been killed in Darfur; more than 2 million innocent civilians have been forced to flee their homes and now live in camps; and more than 3.5 million men, women, and children are completely reliant on international aid for survival .
As long ago as 2004, the UN described Darfur as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world” .
Why don’t we act?
Is it because it is Africa – a continent that we are simply inured to seeing as chaotic and violent? Is it because they are Africans, that we shrug our shoulders and close the newspaper or turn over the television channel?
Away from the horrors of Darfur, why do we tolerate the repression of the Burmese junta?
This is a dictatorship, charged by the United Nations, with a “crime against humanity” for its systematic abuses of human rights. It is a regime, condemned internationally, for refusing to transfer power to the legally elected Government of the country - the party led by Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi . A country where 13 parliamentarians are in prison . Why are we still doing business with that regime?
And what can be done about Iran? Many of us here today – myself included - would oppose military strikes, for whatever reason.
But, nevertheless, we have to consider what will happen if arms control and negotiation – as Tony Blair is advocating – do not work.
What if Tehran were to acquire a nuclear bomb, perhaps leading to nuclear proliferation throughout the region. Surely we should be devising an alternative strategy for dealing with Iran?
Are we thinking about these alternatives?
I know that many of us are wrestling with these issues - because we must find new ways of dealing with states that are prepared to sponsor terror.
We continue to find permanent UN Security Council members, with veto powers, who are prepared to stand in the way of their ethical responsibilities.
That is what is happening in the United States with Israel. Both sides in this conflict suffer – but the Palestinian people suffer disproportionately.
In Rwanda, 800,000 people died in 3 weeks. Croatia’s army forced out virtually all Serbs from the Krajina [KRYINA] region in less than a week in 1995. Serbian forces ethnically cleansed most of the 850,000 Albanian victims in Kosovo, in two weeks in 1999.
To deal with these horrors, we need forces that are rapidly deployable. We can’t go cap in hand to countries to ask for peace-keeping forces each and every time. It takes months and more die. Look at recent events in Lebanon.
What is needed is a rapid reaction force which can be deployed in days.
And the mandate that these forces are bound by, must allow them to protect the civilian population. That is vital.
Peace-keeping mandates are virtually useless in protecting civilian populations in civil conflicts. The UN forces on the ground in Rwanda and Srebrenica [SHREB ENITZA] were worse than useless: they gave certain civilians a false sense of protection and may have even emboldened the aggressors.
That brings me, finally, to an examination of the long-term consequences of international military intervention – and an explanation for my provocative title for tonight’s speech.
Societies in the grip of tyranny, persecution and/or genocide are very brutalised and de-stabilised.
The rule of law has to re-established – from the outset.
I became Special Envoy in May 2003, after thirty years of dealing with the horrors of Iraq.
I still believe that Iraq will succeed, but I am appalled by the current terrorist and sectarian violence. It is a tragedy that Iraq should reap this Saddamist legacy of division and terror.
On a TV programme in the UK last month, a well-known former editor of a tabloid newspaper told me the answer to today’s troubles in Iraq was to “bring back Saddam Hussein”. The sort of headline which made his paper sell.
I even saw an article, last week, in the esteemed New York Times, asking if Iraq needed a new ‘strong man’.
And, some would argue it would have been simpler for the US and the UK, and other members of the international community, to continue with the policy of containment.
However that policy was a complete disaster. Sanctions were making Saddam’s regime richer, while undermining and impoverishing Iraqi society.
Read the Volker Report, which investigated the corruption and manipulation of the UN Oil-for-Food Programme, if you don’t believe me.
I myself saw the massive trucks, bumper to bumper, laden with oil, rumble over the border from Iraq into Turkey and returning, filled with goods.
It was the revenues from that oil, and the oil also illegally sold through the Gulf in the south, which kept the regime alive.
I myself made representations to a Democratic administration, under President Clinton, in Washington, over the need to stop the unlawful sales of oil. I also visited the UN and gave the same message.
I raised the issue repeatedly in the British Parliament and even instigated a select committee investigation into the sanctions regime.
Our protests were ignored.
Sanctions failed because of a lack of will. The price we paid for the failure over the enforcement of sanctions was that we went to war.
I believe that if sanctions had been made to work, then the regime would have crumbled – indictments and sanctions together could have ended Saddam’s terrible rule.
There would have been no military intervention.
It wasn’t their problem.
“that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.”
Our whole objective has been a democratic state in Iraq, where the rights of individuals are respected, where the rule of law prevails.
We are not there yet.
In Iraq there is still brutality; but there is also a small flame of hope.
Take the terrible allegations of present day abuse in Iraqi-run prisons.
Last week, the Interior Ministry, formally accused around 55 Iraqi officials, of committing human rights crimes in connection with the torture and abuse of prisoners .
Eradicating the vicious legacy of Saddam will take time, but such actions, by the Iraqi Government, show that change is possible, and indeed, underway.
I also want to offer some other perspectives, as someone who visits Iraq regularly and has a great love for the people and country.
For me, the Iraqi Higher Tribunal, that is trying Saddam Hussein and other leading members of the regime, is a victory for the people of Iraq – despite the probable use of the death penalty, which I utterly oppose.
I visited the courtroom myself, in May of this year. The atmosphere was calm and dignified, and experts believe that this is the fairest trial process underway in the Middle East.
There are other achievements.
I take a close interest in Iraqi Trade Unions. They are suffering from difficulties in establishing their infrastructure, but they are still working as secular, rights-based organisations in Iraq.
Women’s groups are also active, working together in networks, using the internet to try and make sure that their voice is heard.
On election day in January 2005, in Basra, one of the polling stations was shelled as it was opening. A group of women, queuing to vote, responded with howls of defiance, to show that they would not be deterred from voting.
Over 25% of seats in Iraq’s parliament, called the Council of Representatives, are represented by women – compared with an average of 7.7% in the Arab region .
Obviously, there is a great deal of work to be done, to make women’s participation, in every aspect of life in Iraq, more than a statistic. The same can be said for many of Iraq’s neighbours in the region.
I wonder if the women in this college, one of the most famous women’s universities in the world, would be prepared to take action to support the fight of the women in Iraq?
This, like everything else in Iraq, will take time – but it needs people like you to play a part.
The work of those committed to human rights has to continue.
Not just in Iraq, but in East Timor, Bosnia, the Congo, and other fledgling states, because of the degradation of the society under previous regimes.
It is up to us – all of us – to support them and to stay the course.
As Martin Luther King Jr. observed:
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
So, where do we go from here?
We have acted in the Balkans, in Sierra Leone, in East Timor, in the Congo . . . . and in Iraq.
Many of you are probably wondering, however, whether, knowing what I do today, with Iraq blighted by sectarian division and continued bloodshed, I would have still supported military action in Iraq.
Was life under Saddam, better than it is now in Iraq now, and better than it will be in future?
The post-liberation phase did not exactly turn out as we hoped. There were many mistakes made. I regret particularly that the promotion of human rights was not more central to our strategy.
But too much criticism is levied at those of us who supported the action in Iraq.
Because by acting, we were to a large extent, enforcing up to 20 UN Security Council Resolutions, that had been broken over many, many years.
The world had to show that such abuse will not be tolerated.
I cannot emphasise too strongly the depravity of this regime.
And let us not forget the mistakes of those who refused to get involved. Those who were blinded by short-term economic and political interests. Those who were in Saddam’s pocket.
So yes, I remain thankful for Saddam’s downfall.
And Iraq won’t always be the way it is now. It will get better.
Nation-building is always a long-term exercise, a continuing and evolving process. Look at Kosovo, Afghanistan and East Timor – or further back in history, the reconstruction of Germany and Japan after the Second World War.
So I believe that the recovery from the legacy of Saddam will take time, but it will happen.
For much of my political life, I have gone against the grain.
Deciding whether, when, and how to act, entails making some hard and sometimes very uncomfortable choices.
Sometimes to end violence, force has to be used.
Sometimes to protect the sanctity of human life, lives are lost.
And, if the mistakes made in Iraq, lead to the international community ignoring the need for humanitarian intervention in the future, great suffering will result. The world will become a more dangerous place for all of us.
We cannot duck these issues.
As Winston Churchill said:
“You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
I appeal to you to remember these words throughout your lives. Don’t be frightened to take a stand.
Believe me, it is the true measure of our humanity.