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Coalition Forces Violate Human Rights in Iraq: UN

The United Nations said Friday that US-led coalition forces violated human rights in Iraq, and called for the immediate appointment of an international ombudsman to oversee their behavior.

"The serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law that have taken place must not be allowed to recur. Preventive and protection systems must be put in place," said Bertrand Ramcharand, the UN's acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a new report for UN Human Rights Commission.

Arbitrary arrests and detention have been an ongoing phenomenon since US-led forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, Iraqi officials were cited as saying in the report.

As to abuses committed by US soldiers at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, Ramcharand said that "willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment" of detainees was a grave breach of international law, and might be designated as war crimes by a competent tribunal.

In the report, the UN also denounced the abuses as stain on efforts to bring freedom to the Middle East country.

"The treatment of Iraqi prisoners was, as recognized by coalition leaders at the highest levels, a stain upon the effort to bring freedom to Iraq."

The report called on coalition forces and the Iraqi interim government to take urgent steps to strengthen protection of human rights in the country.

"It is crucial that protection arrangements be strengthened as a matter of the utmost urgency. This concerns oversight of the military forces and the building up of the protection institutions of the new Iraq," said the report.

It recommended the immediate appointment of an international ombudsman or commissioner to oversee human rights in Iraq and regular inspections of all detention centers.

"The fact of the matter is that large numbers of people were incarcerated without being publicly known how many, for what reasons, where they were kept, in what conditions, and how they were being treated," said the report.

The report, however, noted that the removal of the former regime of Saddam Hussein "must be counted a major contribution to human rights in Iraq."

"From the point of view of human rights, there have been gains during the period since the Coalition Forces took control of the country," which included greater freedoms for Iraqis, an internal debate on the country's future government and institutions and more participation of women in public life, it said.

Publication of the report was postponed from the originally planned date of May 31. UN human rights spokesman Jose Luis Diaz explained that the coalition authorities had asked for more time in order to be able to submit relevant information.

So far, there has been no official comment on the report by the US government.

But some US officials expressed their fear earlier this week that the report could have some negative effect on the US efforts to seek support from the international community for the adoption of a UN resolution on the power handover in Iraq by the end of June.

(Xinhua News Agency June 5, 2004)

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