Speech by Denis J. Halliday, former UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (1997-1998)
Watch the video: Dennis Halliday - World Against War Conference Dec 1 2007
Thank you – Chairperson,
Ladies and gentlemen, anti-war and pacifist friends – good evening
It is good to be here. It has been a long day. I hope your hearts and minds are still open for business!
Given the urgency, and the humanitarian calamity it represents, I wish to use my 10 minutes to draw your attention to the terrible plight of today’s Iraqi refugees – outside the country, and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) – within.
This tragic human dislocation has been created by the active violation of the UN Charter and other aspects of international law. This violation was demonstrated by the American terrorism of Shock and Awe, and the invasion of sovereignty, culture, destruction of civilian infrastructure. Irreparable damage to society and fundamental human rights have ensued.. This outrageous unprovoked Act of Aggression – brought to Iraq yet again the horrors of war. Bush and Blair’s pre-emptive strike has led to the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. See the report of the Lancet and John Hopkins.
During the occupation, the atrocities of the US/UK have become only too well known – such as cluster bombing, block busters, use of depleted uranium and M85. Some 250,000 US “heroes”, inclusive of over 100,000 private sector hired guns – have maimed and killed civilians. “Collateral damage” is the obscene term used in Washington. This illegal war has brought on the terrible violence of legitimate resistance. US propaganda and Washington intentions have set in motion the horrors of sectarian strife. The American and British intention to crush Iraq, its people and any “threat” they supposedly posed – has been tragically accomplished.
The consequences are many – and as always in the modern history of Iraq – the people have paid the price with their lives, and their wellbeing. Imperialism, power, and greed in respect of oil and the ambition for a strategic military location – central to the Region – has destroyed Iraq as many of us knew it. But of course – the spirit of the Iraqi people is indestructible. They cannot be broken. They will resist, they will recover and they will overcome the catastrophes of recent years.
Over and above massive loss of civilian life, IS THE TRAGIC CONSEQUENCE OF REFUGEES. It is estimated some 4.7 million children, women and men have been forced from their homes and have fled – some displaced within and some outside Iraq. That means that more that 20 per cent of the entire population have been brutally uprooted by the violence of this War of Aggression – a war crime for which the US/UK, along with others, must be held responsible.
And I am advised that some 2/3 of those driven out, displaced and impoverished thereby are women – just as in sanctions – it is the women and their children that pay the highest price. We are hearing of “survival prostitution”. We know of suffering, deprivation and indignities that women face under the terrible circumstances of being homeless – being refugees whilst struggling to keep families alive and intact..
And we cannot forget those Iraqi refugees and IDPs created by thirteen years of genocidal UN sanctions – sanctions targeting the children of Iraq, set in motion and maintained by the US/UK-driven Security Council – with deadly consequences.
Despite the loud silence in Washington and London – some UNHCR work for assisting the refugees of Iraq is ongoing. It is too little. It lacks publicity. It lacks resources. It lacks adequate recognition and support by those responsible in the US and UK for this human calamity.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is appealing for increased bilateral aid and “humanitarian visas”, the latter for neighbouring countries such as Syria and further-a- field. In the case of Syria, some 1.5 million refugees are creating great pressure – thus the reluctance to issue additional visas. Financing is desperately needed for housing and other refugee needs.
Regarding IDPs – the internally displaced – UNHCR reports over 800,000 in Iraqi Kurdistan close to the Turkish border. The current instability on that border is creating new problems for such people, leading to further displacement. UNHCR reports that some 2.3 million Iraqis are displaced throughout the country. Of these – more than 1 million were displaced prior to 2003.- during the UN sanctions period. Another 190,000 were displaced between 2003-05 and more than 1 million since the first American bombing of Samarra in February 2006.
UNHCR estimates that in addition to more than 1.5 million in Syria – some 500 – 700,000 Iraqis have fled to Jordan. Some families are receiving small allowances of $100-200 per month, but many are suffering badly as private funds run out – housing is too expensive, school is unaffordable if available at all, unemployment prevails, and medical and even food requirements cannot be met adequately.
As recently as 23 November, UNHCR Geneva – noting the reports of limited returns
home by a few refugees – says it is ready to assist but does not believe it is timely to organise and promote returns until secure conditions are in place. Meantime, as one would expect of Iraqi parents, many want to get home so their children can go back to school before the end of the first term!
In respect of IDPS, UNHCR notes an increase in the past few months – making for a total estimate by the Red Cross/Red Crescent some 2.4 million. This may be due to desperation, unending violence and closed borders, and tragically the continuation of “ethnic cleansing” – a sadly familiar form of violence which the occupying forces together with the Government have failed to halt.
It is a picture of human tragedy. Perhaps the more so on account of the wealth of Iraq, the innocence of its people swept up in a war not of their making, and the great potential for human wellbeing that resides in its soil. The chaos, the killing, the atrocities set in motion, the irreparable damage was brought about when the UN Security Council froze into legislative inertia, and thereby facilitated corruption of the word and spirit of the Charter. That failure enabled US terrorism, invasion and military occupation in violation of sovereignty and many international legal safeguards. Yet another example of UN double standards – the Permanent Five consider themselves above the law .
Some of you will be aware, that an important initiative has recently come from a new group – known as “The Iraqi International Initiative for Refugees” – working out of the Region. My contact and the Coordinator – and yours, when I shut up – is in Cairo – Ms Hana Al Bayati – who was deeply involved in a round of international tribunals – culminating in Istanbul 2005 to prosecute Bush, Blair and others charged with war crimes. See the website of the Brussels Tribunal.
The terms of reference, the plan of action, the goals of this Initiative can be found on its new website : www.3iii.org .. set up last Monday – 26th November.
In brief – the Initiative recognizes that the refugees and internally displaced of Iraq, be they outside the country, or within – as citizens of Iraq – have a right to access national financial resources from oil revenue. And I believe this international Conference in London today needs to provide active support. As a group, as representatives of others and as individuals – there is a role for each one of us.
The Website www.3iii.org reminds us that the international community and the present Government in Baghdad have legal obligations to support and protect refugees and internally displaced adequately. See the terms of reference of the UNHCR. Iraqi refugees are no different to others, and have equal rights under international provisions including the Declaration of Human Rights – dignity, right of return, family, employment, security – the right to life … as do we all.
The Initiative argues that the Security Council has an obligation to demand of the international community and the Baghdad Government that Iraqi oil revenue funding be provided now through appropriate agencies and hosting Governments. It demands that such assistance also be provided for return and resettlement as conditions of security and infrastructure allow. The website WWW.3iii.org provides more information and contains a petition you may wish to sign – and that might be a good starting point.
Just as Iraq has and continues to pay billions of dollars in reparations through the UN for damage in Kuwait – it is clear that similar, although much greater reparations, are due to the people of Iraq. Thus in addition to Iraq’s own revenues for refugees, I propose for consideration by this Conference that the Security Council be urged by the member states of the General Assembly to endorse a Resolution requiring the payment of an immediate advance on such REPARATIONS. I speak of the reparations that the US, UK and others involved in the War of Aggression on Iraq must be forced to pay.
It is difficult to determine the size, but reparations from the US and others would seem to require some 2-3 trillion Euros. We of the EU, UK, US, Australia, Canada and other wealthy collaborators – aggressive nations all – cannot be excused. Reparations are a must. The same UN that failed to stop Bush and Blair, now has an obligation to determine the amount of reparations, how and when payments begin.. We cannot bring back the Iraqi lives we have taken, but we can support reconstruction and the return of refugees and IDPs, and the rebuilding of millions of shattered lives.
The website www.3iii.org on the Iraqi Refugee crisis can speak for itself. However, I suspect like me – you are deeply concerned about the many crises of the Region – we can not forget the occupation of Palestine, or the threats to Iran, or the violence continuing in Afghanistan, and real uncertainties elsewhere – but we need to respond to the human catastrophe of some 4.7 million Iraqi refugees and IDPs urgently.
I appreciate this opportunity to speak. I have focused on Iraqi refugees grateful that other speakers have touched on issues I would otherwise have addressed. I refer to the abolition, or at least reform of the UN Security Council – to have the South properly represented in rotating but permanent seats: suspension of the US and UK from the Council pending prosecution of the leadership that undertook invasion and occupation: and the mandatory payment of reparations to Iraq by the US, UK and other collaborators – which I have mentioned.
I would call for an international investigation of US atrocities, torture, murder of civilians, CIA renditions, use of gun slingers acting outside of any law, arbitrary imprisonment of thousands, use of Depleted Uranium, cluster bombing and genocidal destruction of certain towns such as Fallujah.
And believe we must demand the immediate withdrawal of all “enemy combatants” – be they American, British or from any other source: the creation of conditions for election of a representative Government free of outside interference: abolition of a Constitution illegally drafted by the US under military occupation : and encourage free and proper Iraqi decision making on such as privatization, oil revenues, the presence of US military bases.
To close, let me say we need to assist our Iraqi friends find the shortest possible route to the restoration of national sovereignty. We need to demand an end to all forms of foreign interference. And we need to recognize – that the people of Iraq alone can best determine what is to be the future for their country, and in what manner that future is to be pursued, and obtained.
Denis J. Halliday