Open Letter to Amnesty International on the Iraqi Constitution

The following letter was composed by members of the Brussels Tribunal, one of the groups from the World Tribunal on Iraq. For those interested in international law and the upcoming referendum vote on the Iraqi constitution, this is a must read:

We would like to congratulate Amnesty International on its courageous stand against the massive human rights violations inflicted upon the people of Iraq by the US-led occupation forces, as stated in the Amnesty International annual report of 2005.

“Armed groups committed gross human rights abuses, including targeting civilians, hostage-taking and killing hostages. Women continued to be harassed and threatened amid the mounting daily violence. The death penalty was reinstated in August by the new interim government.”

The recommendations made by Amnesty International’s chief Mr. Schulz in the aftermath of this report were very clear:

“If the US government continues to shirk its responsibility, Amnesty International calls on foreign governments to uphold their obligations under international law by investigating all senior US officials involved in the torture scandal,” said Schulz, who added that violations of the torture convention, which has been ratified by the United States and some 138 other countries, can be prosecuted in any jurisdiction.”

On August 9, 2005, Amnesty International launched a “Call for a human rights based constitution”. This action alert calls on people to write to Jaafari, asking him to make sure that the constitution is one that respects human rights. Of course, we embrace the idea that Iraqi’s human rights will be much better protected in the future than they are today. Nevertheless, everyone who cares about human rights should question the validity of a constitution that is written under the current situation. A call we received from a well-know human rights activist from Baghdad, who has strong reservations against Amnesty International’s action alert, should illustrate our concern. For security reasons we can’t reveal the author’s name. We apologize for this, but in our opinion, people in a war zone should still have the right and opportunity to speak out without risking death. It also shows how grievous the situation in Iraq is, and how far the so-called ‘Salvador option’, the state-directed terror against the population, is now in action.

“I hear Amnesty International is campaigning for Human Rights in the new Iraqi draft constitution? How wonderful that they are concerned about our human rights in the future… but what about now? Why doesn’t Amnesty International campaign or at least say something about the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis who are held for months, years in the American prisons, without the least rights? The known and the unknown prisons inside and outside Iraq? Why don’t they do something about the hundreds of Iraqis, whose bodies are found every day on the garbage piles, with evidences of horrible torture on their bodies after they had been disappeared for a few days? What about the miserable life the Iraqi government is giving the Iraqis for months now, in every field? Does Amnesty International consider the rewriting of the constitution now a legal process? Obviously it does, but on what bases? The war and occupation of Iraq are illegal (even Kofi Annan said it). Who wrote the draft? A member of the writing committee admitted that a draft was sent from the US. So, how far is this legal?

I would like to ask Amnesty International one question: why is it so necessary to write a new constitution for Iraq now? All the political parties, the government, the National Assembly, the media ..etc are preoccupied with the (controversial points) in the constitution for months now, and will be for the next few months. Meanwhile, the country is full of problems: the security, the services, the economy, the environment, the corruption, the Human Rights conduct of the Iraqi government… to mention only few ..two days ago I went to a dentist compound, one of the biggest in Baghdad, where at least 50 dentists work. They could not pull out my tooth because they did not have anesthetic…a very common problem in the Iraqi hospitals for months. Too bad for my teeth, but imagine with emergency cases?

In Tallafar families did not get the food ration, neither any other food since the beginning of this year. In many Iraqi towns, the majority, there is no authority, no law, no police, no courts, only the armed militias and their political parties. Racial cleansing has begun in many parts of Iraq. The government in the heavily fortified Green Zone is very busy working on the constitution.

During the last attack on Haditha, for more than two weeks, all the news programs, the dialogue, the forums were focused on the constitution and in the meantime an Iraqi major city was practically slaughtered. No one said a word about it as if it was happening on the moon. Do you think that this is just a coincidence? And, by the way, it happened and is happening continuously in other places.

There are so many problems in Iraq now, so many crimes committed daily, where innocent people are killed, arrested, tortured… Why is it so important to neglect all these crimes and be busy with the constitution? Why is it so urgent?

Saddam did not write the Iraqi constitution, and if there were some changes or resolutions added to it during the last 30 years, they can be cancelled, simple. We can keep our constitution until we have a proper government and national assembly. After we are done with the most urgent problems, we can take our time writing the most humanitarian and progressive constitution in the world!

Maybe more dangerous is the fact that rewriting the constitution now is deepening the divisions between the Iraqis and pushing them to the verge of civil war, because some of them were given guarantees to participate in the political process, which they refused in the beginning, and after they agreed, the guarantees proved to be untrue.

Now these groups are saying that they were deceived, and they reject the draft presented to the National Assembly. All these problems are for what? Just to help Bush look more successful in Iraq, to give him more diplomatic credit?

To hold the election, thousands of people were killed and the entire city of Fallujah was demolished. Now, what is needed to impose a constitution? A civil war ?”

Can’t you see that it is a game? The political parties and ethnic, sectarian groups are taking the chance of imposing a constitution convenient to their interests, and their masters interests, not the interests of Iraq. I am not saying this out of my own prejudice, no, they admit it themselves, openly. And by the way, there is a very unhealthy, non-objective atmosphere in which this constitution is written, which is something very expected and normal in the current situation. But it is not the right way to write a constitution.

I know very well who are the friends and the enemies of Iraq and its people. I have nothing against any international organization. On the contrary, I, personally, am badly in need of an international organization that can help me in my campaign on the Missing. I want these organizations to come here and work on the violations that the occupation did and is doing in Iraq. We need them badly to see what the occupation is covering by rewriting the constitution. We need them to campaign for releasing the innocent, or at least giving them some rights in prison, not to campaign for a political process built on the wrong basis.

The problem is that the world is asking somebody who is burning in fire to scream in a low voice. Have you experienced living with death all around you, with fear of everything and everybody, with the horrible stories and pictures of what some Iraqis are facing? Excuse my frustration, with my respect to all the international organizations which defend Human Rights. “

An article, written on August 17th by Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi novelist and columnist of ‘The Guardian’, reflects the essence of this message we received from inside Iraq:

“perhaps we need to remember that this constitution is being written in a war zone, in a country on the verge of a civil war. This process is designed not to represent the Iraqi people’s need for a constitution but to comply with an imposed timetable aimed at legitimising the occupation. The drafting process has increasingly proved a dividing, rather than a unifying, process. Under Saddam Hussein, we had a constitution described as “progressive and secular”. It did not stop him violating human rights, women’s included. The same is happening now. The militias of the parties heading the interim government are involved in daily violations of Iraqis’ human rights, women’s in particular, with the US-led occupation’s blessing. Will the new constitution put an end to this violence?”

We do agree that a “constitution should make a specific reference to international law as one of the sources of national legislation and that in case of conflict between national law and international law, the Constitution should specify that international law should prevail”, as it is stated in the second of a set of recommendations Amnesty International published on August 11, 2005. We regret that Amnesty International, which is a noted human rights organisation, doesn’t seem to acknowledge that the war of aggression, the subsequent occupation, the changing of any law under occupation and this entire process of writing a new Constitution are fully in breach of international law. May we remind Amnesty International of the Judgment of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, Germany 1946: “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” How can “a human rights based constitution” possibly emanate from “the supreme international crime”?

Just a few weeks ago, a highly significant judicial decision, comprising more than 130 pages, was handed down by the German Federal Administrative Court. With careful reasoning, the judges ruled that the assault launched by the United States and its allies against Iraq was a clear war of aggression that violated international law.

The occupation itself constitutes the gravest violation of human rights and dignity. The legitimacy and autonomy of this government, installed and completely controlled by the US occupation forces after an illegal and illegitimate war of aggression, is not only challenged by a large part of the Iraqi population, but also by the international peace movement and international lawyers.

At the culminating session in Istanbul, June 23-26, 2005, the World Tribunal on Iraq, a network of independent groups and individuals form across the world, who cooperated in order to investigate the US-led war of aggression against Iraq and the crimes committed by the occupying forces, resulted in a Declaration of the Jury of Conscience. This jury concluded that the invasion was illegal under international law, as is the subsequent occupation.

Some excerpts:

Overview of Findings

10. Any law or institution created under the aegis of occupation is devoid of both legal and moral authority. The recently concluded election, the Constituent Assembly, the current government, and the drafting committee for the Constitution are therefore all illegitimate.
We recommend:
3. That all laws, contracts, treaties, and institutions established under occupation, which the Iraqi people deem inimical to their interests, be considered null and void.
10. That people around the world resist and reject any effort by any of their governments to provide material, logistical, or moral support to the occupation of Iraq.
(… )
International Law Appendix

III. The occupation of Iraq has fragrantly violated The Right of Self-Determination of the People of Iraq:

• Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and of the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights (1966): “(1) All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”;

• It is evident that the occupation, by its decrees, practices, imposition of an interim government, managed elections, and administered constitution-making process has violated the right of self-determination of the Iraqi people, a fundamental element of international human rights law.

The full version of the conclusions of the Jury of Conscience can be read at These conclusions are – as already mentioned above  supported by many Human Rights activists, a large fraction of the global Peace Movement and a considerable number of experts in International law.

In the above mentioned document of August 11, Amnesty International pleaded for an extension of article 44 of the Constitution draft, regarding international law. Today, in chorus with AI and many Iraqi human rights organisations, we deplore the removal of this article from the final Constitution draft. In the same document, Amnesty International emphasised the importance to “establish universal jurisdiction for the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, extra-judicial executions an ‘disappearances’, in order that Iraqi national courts can investigate and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute anyone who enters Iraqi territory suspected of these crimes, regardless of where the crime was committed or the nationality of the accused or the victim.” These crimes have been and are committed by the occupying forces, the US forces in particular, who are controlling the country of Iraq until now, and by the Iraqi institutions that were established under US supervision. Wasn’t it the present US government, which threatened to invade the Netherlands in case one of the members of the US government would be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court of The Hague?

We are not surprised about the removal of article 44 under the current situation, neither do we believe that the new Constitution will ever contain any provisions that could lead to prosecution of those, who ordered crimes against the Iraqi people, like the president of the US and other government officials and Army generals.
Therefore, it should be argued that the basic condition for drafting a constitution for Iraq is the swift ending of the occupation, with a scheduled withdrawal of all foreign troops. Only then, and under the full sovereignty of the Iraqi people, can an independent government of Iraq be formed. Such a government can then decide if and when a constitution should be drafted.

With the above in mind, we consider it suitable if Amnesty International would concentrate its efforts on denouncing the grave violations of human rights inflicted upon the Iraqi people by the occupying forces in order to bring the responsible war criminals to justice, instead of starting a campaign that de facto gives some legitimisation to this inhumane occupation and its Quisling government, whose legality is highly questionable. We strongly recommend that Amnesty International focuses on humanitarian law to ensure that grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions are properly addressed.

Prof. Lieven De Cauter, Prof. Jean Bricmont, Prof. Em. François Houtart, Patrick Deboosere, Hana Al Bayaty, Dirk Adriaensens, Inge Van de Merlen.

For The BRussells Tribunal Executive Committee:

Hans von Sponeck (Former UN Assistant Secretary General & United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq 1998-2000 – Germany)
Michael Parenti (author – USA)
Nermin Al-Mufti (Former co-director of Occupation Watch – Journalist – Iraq)
Ghazwan Al-Mukhtar (Engineer – Iraq)
Abdul Ilah Al-Bayaty (Writer – Iraq / France)
Haifa Zangana (Novelist – Iraq / UK)
Sabah Al-Mukhtar (President of the Arab Lawyers Association – Iraq / UK)
Dr. Imad Khadduri (Nuclear scientist – Iraq / Canada)
Sami Ramadani (Senior lecturer in sociology at London Metropolitan University – Iraq / UK)
Mundher Al-Adhami (Research Fellow at Kings College London – Iraq / UK)
Mohammed Aref (Science writer – Iraq / UK)
Amal Al-Khedairy (Expert on Iraqi History, Culture, Archeology Arts and Crafts – Iraq)
Niloufer Bhagwat (Vice President of Indian Lawyers Association – Mumbai / India)
Dahr Jamail (Journalist – USA)
Karen Parker (Attorney – USA)
Jan Fermon (Lawyer of the Court case against General Tommy Franks in Brussels)
Amy Bartholomew (Law professor – Canada)
Nadia McCaffrey (Leading personality within the US anti-war movement – USA)
Gabriele Zamparini (independent filmmaker – Italy/UK)
Jeffrey Blankfort (Former editor of the Middle East Labor Bulletin and currently hosts radio programs – USA)
Jeff Archer/Malcom Lagauche (Journalist – USA)
Carlos Varea (coordinator of SCOSI – Spanish Campaign against Occupation and for the Sovereignty of Iraq – Spain)
Joachim Guilliard (Journalist, Anti-war movement – Germany)
Sigyn Meder (Anti-war movement – Sweden)
Manuel Raposo (the Portuguese hearing of WTI)
Ludo De Brabander (Vrede – Belgium)
Peter Algoet (Humanistisch Verbond)
Jos Hennes (EPO publishers)
Frank Vercruyssen (actor – TG Stan)