14.12.2003 | Vladimir Bukovskiy, Inna Sukhorukova, the Kharkov Group for human rights protection, Evhen Zakharov,

ON THE PROBABLE WAR IN IRAQ: The opinions of human rights protectors


Vladimir Bukovskiy

I am not going to protest against war in Iraq. Why? Briefly:

•  Of course, we all prefer to end Saddam`s regime peacefully, but this is not going to happen. The West (unlike the former Soviet Union) has no means of changing foreign regimes. Therefore, in dealing with oppressive regimes, they consider only two options: either a war or a "peaceful coexistence". I personally spent hours persuading Mrs. Thatcher and Ronald Reagan that the Soviet system can be defeated peacefully (and not only I alone but many of our friends). It was very difficult, but we finally succeeded. So, in reality, the options today with Iraq are: either war or peaceful coexistence (which means cooperation). Would you prefer the latter?

•  The war in Iraq is not going to be as bloody as you think. Of course, any innocent life loss is horrible, but it will be numbered in hundreds, not in hundred thousands. Saddam is universally hated by most of his people, particularly by Kurds in the North and Shiites in the South. In general, the population is tired of his regime and will not be united in his defense. Many expressed their disappointment in 1991 that the Western allies did not finish him off.

•  There will be no World War as a result of attack on Iraq because most of the neighboring states hate Saddam. They might publicly protest showing Arab solidarity, but privately they will be happy. This is exactly what they do right now: protest publicly but privately encourage Americans to go ahead.

•  What are the consequences of NOT removing Saddam right now? It is reliably known that within 2 years he will have nuclear weapons. He already has chemical and biological weapons (thanks to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus). As soon as he has the nuclear weapons, all attempts at removing him from power will stop. The West will never risk a nuclear war, believe me. So, the West will engage in "appeasement" policy, like they did with Hitler and the Soviets. Would you like it?

•  Meanwhile, Saddam will blackmail the West with a threat of destroying Israel all the time, and will get whatever he wants. He will also blackmail Saudi Arabia into fixing the oil prices, or he will take over Kuwait again. Russia will benefit from this situation enormously (high oil prices are in the interests of both Russia and Saddam; Russia sells weapons to Saddam on a huge scale). Would you like this, too?

Thus, in my firm belief, a war with Iraq right now is a lesser evil by far. You may think I became too cynical after living in the West for 25 years. It may be so, but I do know the West far better than anyone in Russia. And my advice to you is not to protest against this war.

Inna Sukhorukova, the Kharkov Group for human rights protection

I believe that human rights protectors must publicly express their opinion on the possible military operation in Iraq. First, it endangers human rights and, secondly, it is a part of the global humanitarian problem, for the solution of which the mankind is not ready yet, as the last 10-15 years have proved.

The following aspects of the situation around Iraq seem to be the most disturbing.

a) The danger of the totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein was obvious from the very beginning, but it became absolutely clear after Iraq invaded to Kuwait. Why Hussein was not dismissed from his post during the operation „Storm in the desert“? What political standards did not allow to do it? Why the USA brought up the question about the danger of the terrorist regimes only after the events of 11 September?

b) Why the discussion concerns all the time the violations of the UNO resolution by Iraq, and not the most important question: the obvious potential peril of the regimes similar to the regime of Hussein or of the talibs in Afghanistan? It is evident that anti-democratic regimes can violate the international agreements and common norms at any time. The closeness of these countries, absence of any freedoms and legal opposition mean unambiguously that the countries like Iraq are the delayed-action mines. In this situation the use of force for liquidating the totalitarian regime is justified, but the decision about this must be taken by the UNO, but not by USA only. Yet, the Security Council of the UNO continues to work according to the former situation, when the world was bipolar and the main task of the mankind was to prevent the third world war.

c) Iraq is not the only country that is potentially dangerous. Other countries with nontransparent economy, internal and foreign policy, where the fundamental freedoms are permanently abused, may be also related to this risk group. From this viewpoint the attack at the parliamentarism and opposition in Ukraine or the suppression of the freedom of speech in Russia (not to mention the war in Chechnya) must worry the world community not less (and, taking into account the geopolitical role of our countries, even more) than the situation in Iraq. However, one can observe no reaction to these phenomena neither on the side of the USA nor on the side of the European Union.

It is noteworthy that in case of the war in Iraq, as well as during the military operation of the USA in Afghanistan, the peaceful population will be the main victim. There is a way to avoid this. The UNO should take the decision obliging all countries being members of this organization to terminate all economic and political relations with the dictatorial regime, and the UNO (NATO) troops should block the country-offender with the concrete demands – to change the character and form of the power. And only if the country ignores these demands, it would be reasonable to apply force.

The dictatorship of Hussein snuffed out the lives of a number of Iraq citizens, and this is a sufficient reason for the overthrow of the dictator.

The fundamental changes of the UNO structures are needed, since the old structures are already ineffective in the modern world. Nowadays the UNO has no instruments for solving such questions. That is why the USA must assume the decisions. Such situation is dangerous, since this country can become accustomed to using force methods and taking decisions regardless of the world community. That is why I am sure that reforming the UNO structures, creating the mechanisms for fighting the violations of fundamental human rights is the only way out from the dead end, where we have get.

So, let us sum up: the existing UNO structures, methods and principles developed for observing human rights in separate countries are obsolete, and this makes the USA to take upon themselves the unpleasant role of world peacemaker. The USA may do this without a resolution of the UNO Security Council only if they prove that the actions of that or another country threatens the safety of the USA. The inefficiency of the UNO allows the totalitarian regimes to exist during dozens of years, and the weak democracies slip into the totalitarianism, which threatens the entire world community.

I think that it should be advisable to compile the appeal to the UNO from the human rights protection organizations, which support this point of view.

Evhen Zakharov, the Kharkov group for human rights protection, „Memorial“

I reckon that that it is necessary to make public the attitude of human rights protectors to the possible military operation by USA in Iraq. Firstly, this operation threatens human rights not only in Iraq. Secondly, this is an element of the old general problem: whether force methods may be used for realizing good intentions? When it is admissible to apply the so-called humanitarian interference in the affairs of a sovereign state? There were many examples. In 1827 the Great Britain, France and Russia interfered in the internal affairs of the Ottoman Empire to protect the rights of Greek population. This conflict described by Byron resulted in the restoration of the independence of Greece. In 1860 the group of European countries tried to prevent the genocide of Christians in Syria. In 1878 Russia participated in the Balkan war to save the non-Moslem population of Balkans from Turks. And nobody rendered the assistance to Armenians in 1913.

Thus, if to regard the principle of obeying individual rights as primary, then the interference in the internal affairs is admissible and righteous in the cases of brutal mass violations of human rights, such, for instance, as ethnic or religious purges. Yet, this interference must not evoke the greater violence. It must be directed only against the source of the violations and must not concern the peaceful population and civil objects.

Here many questions appear at once: who and how will decide whether the interference is needed, according to which procedure this decision will be taken and, at last, who and how will realize this interference? Even a fleeting glance at the events of recent years proves that the thesis on the humanitarian interference for the protection from the most brutal violations of human rights is not always applied; this depends, first of all, on the political situation.

In 1999 the countries of the NATO bombarded Serbia to save the Kosovo Albanians from ethnic purges. Yet, they wink at the genocide of Kurds by Turks, since Turkey is a member of the NATO. Russia wages the war against the Chechen people, but the West almost does not react to this struggle with terrorism in the Russian style, especially after the events of 11 September. Western governments also do not pay attention to the brutal violations of human rights in Tibet: China is too great and powerful. And Uganda, for example, is merely uninteresting for the Western politicians. Such policy of double standards undermines the confidence in the Western world and the very idea of human rights as the basic value.

It seems obvious that there are no unambiguous norms in the international legislation that would allow to draw the conclusion about the necessity of humanitarian interference. There are also no intergovernmental organs, which could consider such problems impartially and to issue the corresponding decisions.

The bombardments of Serbia were endorsed by the Western public, who regard Miloshevich as modern Hitler. At the same time, many political figures, including the Russian ones, blamed the NATO for the violations of the international right, and these reproaches were true. Yet, as Sergey Kovalev correctly said, right is not an end in itself and not a religious dogma, but it is a tool for achieving justice and safety, and the legal norms of right are worth something only if they guarantee human rights, freedoms and dignity. Yet, the legal vacuum is very dangerous here. It is necessary to design the criteria defining whether the domestic policy of a state is criminal, and whether international sanctions, up to military intervention, are needed. So, the new intergovernmental organ is needed able to consider such problems impartially and to issue the decisions that will be executed. Unfortunately, the UNO Security Council, as well as its other organs, cannot fulfill these functions. And the executive structure must be created at last that will be able to execute these decisions, and this structure must be more powerful than national armed forces. In other words, the international rights require the considerable renovation.

Let us try to apply the above-stated logic. To approve the military operation of the USA against Iraq either the resolution of the UNO Security Council is necessary or the very convincing proofs confirming that the passivity will result in the mass brutal violations of human rights. In my opinion, this question is still open. Yes, it seems that the crimes of the regime of Hussein justify the military operation. But I have some doubts, since the opinion of the American public on this question is not unanimous, and all my acquaintances, which live in the USA, protest against the application of the military sanctions against Iraq.

The impression is formed that we have not enough information to take the decision whether to endorse the military operation or to protest against it. Was the connection established between the terrorist acts of 11 September and Hussein’s regime? Are the violations of the UNO resolutions by Iraq serious enough? May one hope for the positive changes of Hussein’s regime? Here are many other questions having no evident answers.

In the current situation I should not hurry to express my opinion, I want to get the answers before.

There may not be the common opinion concerning this problem, so it is senseless to try to formulate such opinion. Yet, it should be advisable to express the doubts openly and to put the necessary questions. The efforts are needed directed at the development of the criteria of the permissibility of military interference.

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