This is a repost of material from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office News page   

Posted on 2, Dec 2002 at Original post page




The purpose of this briefing is to launch the Foreign Office’s Report on Human Rights in Iraq which the Foreign Secretary announced in his speech to the Atlantic Partnership earlier this morning. Joining us is Dr Hussein al-Shahristani, the Chairman of the Iraqi Refugee Aid Council. Dr Hussein was imprisoned for 11 years by the Iraqi regime and tortured. He escaped from Iraq during the Gulf War.

The easiest and the most straightforward way to introduce the dossier is to use the Foreign Secretary’s own words from the speech he was making this morning on this subject. As the Foreign Secretary pointed out, we have a policy now towards Iraq which is based on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, the objective of which is the peaceful disarmament of Saddam’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, an arsenal he has been prepared to use not only against external enemies, such as Iran, but as a means of oppressing his own people too. It is surely a regime of unique horror which is prepared to kill thousands of its own civilians by poisonous gas, yet what occurred in Halabjah in 1988 is a vivid demonstration of the integral part Saddam’s WMD play in the rule of fear which pervades Iraq today. So by disarming Iraq we not only help those countries in the region which are subject to Iraqi threats and intimidation, we also deprive Saddam of one of his most powerful tools for keeping the Iraqi people living in fear and subjugation.

So today we are publishing this report of the appalling human rights record of Saddam’s regime. It is the most detailed account the Government has ever published on this subject. It includes intelligence material, first hand accounts of Iraqi victims of torture and oppression, reports by NGOs and by the UN Special Rapporteur as well.

The aim is to remind the world that the abuses of the Iraqi regime extend far beyond its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, in violation of its international obligations. The dossier, as you may have seen, makes for harrowing reading with accounts of torture, rape and other horrific human rights abuses. It makes clear these are carried out as part of the deliberate policy of the regime.

The Iraqi people themselves are powerless to speak out about these abuses. Anyone criticising the President is liable to have his tongue amputated. Only the outside world is free to speak about the barbarity of Saddam Hussein’s regime, which is why we have published our dossier.

I have been a witness to Saddam’s violations of human rights in Iraq. I was the Chief Scientist of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Organisation until 1979, working on peaceful applications of atomic energy. I was arrested, tortured and kept in solitary confinement for over 11 years for refusing to work on the military nuclear programme. However, I was more fortunate than many of my fellow political prisoners in the country. I did not have holes drilled into my bones, as happened in the next torture room. I did not have my limbs cut off by an electric saw. I did not have my eyes gauged out. My three children were brought in to the torture chamber but they were not tortured to death in front of me to force me to make confessions to things I had not done. Women of my family were not brought in and raped in front of me, as happened to many of my colleagues. Torturers did not dissolve my hands in acid. I was not among the hundreds of political prisoners who were taken from prison as guinea-pigs to be used for chemical and biological tests.

They only tortured me for 22 days and nights continuously by hanging me from my hands tied at the back and using a high voltage probe on the sensitive parts of my body and beating me mercilessly. They were very careful not to leave any permanent bodily marks on me because they hope they can break my will and I will agree to go back and work on their military nuclear programme.

In a way I was lucky to spend 11 years in solitary confinement because I did not have to see what was going on in the larger prison – the country of Iraq – in which 20 million people were kept captives. I did not have to witness the ceremonies in which mothers were ordered to watch public executions of their sons and then asked to pay the price of the bullets that were used in the executions. I did not have to watch people’s tongues being pulled out and cut off because they dared to criticise Saddam or one of his family members. I did not see young men’s foreheads branded and their ears cut off because they were late for a few days to report to their military duties. I did not see the beautiful southern Iraqi Marshes drained and the reeds burnt and the Marsh Arabs massacred and their old ways of life destroyed. I did not see the beheading of more than 130 women, who were beheaded in public squares in Iraq, and their heads put out for public display.

In many ways I was fortunate to have survived it all to tell the stories of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who are not here to tell their stories. These atrocities have been going on for over two decades while the international community have either silently watched it, or at times even tried to cover it up. Saddam is not a run-of-the-mill dictator; he is exceptional. Weapons of mass destruction at Saddam’s hands are dangerous to the Iraqi people and to mankind.

However, as important as it is to eliminate the weapons of mass destruction, it is more important to protect the people who may be destroyed en masse by these weapons at Saddam’s hands. The international community should be more concerned and committed to implement Security Council resolutions such as 688 to protect the Iraqi people and safeguard their basic human rights at least as much as enforcing resolutions to disarm Saddam.

Dr Hussein, when you have made these charges or presented this evidence to fellow Arabs, to people from Muslim societies, what has their reaction been? Have they not also condemned Saddam Hussein for torturing and killing Arabs?

Yes. We have discussed this evidence with many Arab human rights organisations who take note of it and are interested in what we say, but the Arab masses unfortunately are suffering to one degree or another from human rights abuses in their own countries by their own governments, and for them this is just another Arab dictator who is mistreating his people. But they fail to see, as I said in my presentation, that he is not really a run-of-the-mill dictator, he is exceptional.

I would like to ask a representative of the Foreign Office: isn’t this report simply giving the Government justification for a war in Iraq? And if that is not true, why is it that we haven’t seen reports on Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, or the torture and illegal detention of British prisoners in Saudi Arabia? It seems odd that we should be looking at video footage and reading about events, most of which happened 10 years ago, at this critical time politically. Either we have a consistent human rights policy and ethical foreign policy, or are we just giving ourselves justification really for what many people think is going to be a war in the New Year?

I think we have to start from the position of what is our policy overall to Iraq. Our policy overall towards Iraq, which is now encapsulated in Security Council Resolution 1441, has a very clear objective, and that objective is the disarmament of Iraq through peaceful means through the weapons inspection regime, which we are doing all we can to support at the moment. Now there is a connection between weapons of mass destruction and human rights and that is why we have thought it right to bring to your attention today the evidence in this dossier. There is a connection in at least two respects. The first respect is the historical record where weapons of mass destruction were used, particularly in Northern Iraq, in order to suppress opposition to Saddam Hussein’s regime, and that is a matter of record.

But there is a second sense in which this is important and there is a strong connection, and that is the psychological sense that these weapons are still there and they are available for use against opposition. Indeed if you look at the dossier you will see that we have got, courtesy of Harvard University, a document which sets instructions out for dealing with demonstrations, and part of those instructions for dealing with demonstrations talk about the use of special measures, which are chemical weapons, in order to wipe out the objective of 95% of demonstrators at a demonstration. So there is a past connection on the record between WMD and human rights, and there is a present psychological and government policy record. Now if you look at the overall policy objective, which is about disarmament of WMD, you see you cannot disconnect the human rights performance in Iraq from that and that is why we have thought it right, as part of our overall policy, to draw this to your attention.

For these reasons, we believe Iraq merits special attention, but we don’t overlook other countries. We publish an annual human rights report which includes a wide range of countries, including some of the ones you mentioned. And finally on the date of the material, if you look through the dossier you will find plenty of examples from the last 2–3 years and the last couple of months as well.

Given this dossier and given the evidence you say you have, are you proposing that Saddam Hussein and other senior Iraqi officials should at some stage face a War Crimes Tribunal or trial within Iraq? If not, why not?

We are not saying no to an International War Crimes Tribunal. This is a very complex area of international law. The international community as a whole has really got to agree amongst itself what the right remedy is going to be, and it hasn’t done that yet.

My question is to Dr Hussein. I wonder if you could give us an idea of how you actually managed to get out and what are your most vivid memories of when you were captured and tortured?

During the Desert Storm operations I managed to escape from Aboreb Prison and left Baghdad the same night to the north, to Sirimani (phon) in Iraqi Kurdistan and went into hiding until there was an uprising in which I took part in the city of Sirimani and where Saddam’s forces were allowed to crush the uprising. We had to flee. I fled with more than a million other Iraqis across the borders into Iran and stayed at refugee camps and started my human rights work from that point. My most vivid memory is hearing the screams of very young children being tortured in the neighbouring torturing rooms.

Given that these human rights abuses, as you say, have been going on for 20 years, why do you think the British government is producing evidence like this now?

I do share the concern that has been expressed that this should have been noticed and acted upon a long time ago. I am sorry that the international community, including the British government, has not been as active as it should have been in trying to force the regime to stop such violations of human rights. However, later is better than never and I do call upon all other international organisations, governments, the Security Council in particular, to see that the Resolution 688 is actually enforced on the regime and the Iraqi people are protected under this resolution from the abuses of the regime.

You say that you are not putting forward human rights abuses as justification for an invasion. Supposing that Saddam Hussein does comply with the inspectors, weapons of mass destruction are removed, there is no invasion, what then are you going to do about these human rights abuses? You advance the argument that removing weapons of mass destruction is going to be a help, but you don’t need weapons of mass destruction to cut out people’s tongues or brand people’s foreheads.

It is a very good point. If we get to the happy conclusion that we have disarmed Iraq of its WMD successfully through the weapons inspection regime, as you say that will have removed one area where we are concerned about human rights, then we will be treating Iraq as we treat other countries where there are gross violations of human rights: through the annual UN mechanisms, through our own human rights work around the world, and we will be taking opportunities as they arise to put pressure on the Iraqi regime. It has to be said that if the Iraqi regime were to get rid of its WMD it would be a changed regime in the sense that as a minimum its behaviour will have changed, so there may be scope for pressing for other changes too.

Recently Saddam has actually released lots of prisoners from Aboreb and other prisons and he is also flirting with some opposition parties. He seems to be doing what people have been asking him to do for many years, obviously under pressure. Do you acknowledge that he is changing and does that reflect at all on this report that he is actually doing some of the things that we have been wanting him to do for 20 years?

There was an amnesty in Iraq last month, they did release thousands of prisoners. The overwhelming majority of these - over 90% - were normal criminals, very, very few of them were political prisoners. Of the more than 10,000 people that were arrested with me during 1979 and 1980 and were kept at Aboreb Prison at the time, only one person has been released. Of the tens of thousands of people that were arrested during the uprising and after the uprising of March 1991, none has been released, including the over 100 religious scholars from Najaf that have been arrested and taken away from Najaf. From among the tens of thousands of political prisoners that were arrested in late 1998, early 1999, during the so-called second uprising when Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr was assassinated early in 1991, none of those has been released. The only political prisoners, and these are a couple of hundred that were released, were those who were arrested during 2001 and 2002, and perhaps some that were arrested during the year 2000. Of all the political prisoners that were arrested throughout the ‘80s and throughout the ‘90s, only one person has been released.

Dr Hussein, I understood you were head of the nuclear agency in Iraq before you were imprisoned, I imagine that means you know Saddam Hussein personally? How would you describe him as a man relative to your experiences and this report? Did he look like a villain before you went to prison?

Yes. He has always, even in the meetings, made sure that people listened very carefully to what he had to say and anybody who dared to disagree, even on scientific issues, could disappear and never to be seen again. So people were extremely careful not to disagree with him, even at the Atomic Energy Board meetings. I remember for example when he wanted to redirect the research activities at the Atomic Energy from peaceful applications to what he called then strategic applications, and I reminded the Board that Iraq had signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty with the International Atomic Energy Agency and it was our international obligation not to indulge in any non-peaceful applications. I was just told that I was a good scientist, I should monitor my scientific work and never discuss such issues again.

See the  Full Report at

Saddam Hussein: Crimes & Human Rights Abuses


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