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2003 | 55th Regular Session of the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights (28 July - 15 August 2003)

Children’s human rights violations in Iraq

Fifty-fifth Session, Palais des Nations, Geneva, 28 July – 15 August 2003Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Dominican Leadership Conference, Pax Christi International, in conduction with Franciscans International, raise the issue of the impact of sanctions and of war on the full enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights especially by the most vulnerable in society, i.e. children and women. We deal more specifically with these rights while being fully aware of the interdependance of all rights, including civil and political rights. We know that wars destroy the fibre of a country and eradicate the gains made over the years for the betterment of the lives of the people.

Furthermore, in a situation where a country is governed by a repressive regime, crippled by sanctions and an embargo as well as being battered by a destructive war, it is difficult for the international community to convince the victims of the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. For example, how do we speak of rights to the people of Iraq, especially the women and children? What do we say to the most vulnerable people who will bear the harmful and long-lasting consequences of the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium?

Our stance on these issues remains a humanitarian, ethical and moral one. Our reason for speaking out stems from our grave concern about the devastation brought upon by sanctions and armed conflict on the lives of thousands of children and women worldwide and about the gross and ongoing violations of their fundamental rights and freedoms. Dominicans have been in Iraq for over 250 years living and working among and with the Iraqi people in the fields of education, health care including running hospitals and other forms of humanitarian endeavors.

Human rights violations in Iraq

In wars and under a sanctions system, the rights of children are violated and often neglected, including their most basic right: the right to life. Yet, article 38 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child binds states to commit themselves to respect and to ensure respect for rules of humanitarian law applicable to children. It also declares that State Parties “shall take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict”. Further, article 3 of the Convention declares that “in all actions concerning children, … the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration.” Notwithstanding such obligations, these articles of the Convention continue to be systematically violated on a daily basis in Iraqi.

In Iraq, the economic sanctions, the war and its aftermath have a devastating effect not only for the survival of children, but also on their moral, social and psychological development, in violation of article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. How do we speak to this generation of the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights? Or, of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child?

Impact on children

Because of sanctions, a whole generation of children born after the 1991 war in Iraq were deprived of the right to adequate food and to clean water which would allow them to develop normally. Now, the second war in Iraq and its aftermath adds to this by seriously affecting and disadvantaging another generation of children. How do we address with them the issue of the right to food and to water? How does the international community ensure that the people of Iraq will have the means to re-establish a society conducive to the full development of people, especially children.

The right to health is found both in the Covenant on Economical, Social and Cultural Rights (Art. 12) and in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Art. 24). In addition to the effects of sanctions, there is the effect of environmental pollution in Iraq, in particular, of depleted uranium, which is chemically and radiologically toxic. Epidemiological studies show that the increased incidence of congenital abnormalities and defects, cancers in all age groups are directly related to exposure to depleted uranium, either by ingestion, inhalation or skin contact. The use of depleted uranium in the present conflict can only add to spreading illnesses, environmental pollution and degradation of the land. How do we dialogue practically with them about the right to a clean and healthy environment and the right to health?

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, in his July 17, 2003 report to Security Council pursuant to paragraph 24 of Security Council resolution 1483 (2003), stated the following: “Daily living conditions have not improved, at least for those living in urban areas, and my have got worse. Above all, my Special Representative’s contacts expressed deep concern about the precarious, some believed deteriorating, security situation, particularly in Baghdad. They feared that if the situation were not addressed quickly insecurity would hamper efforts to address many of the immediate concerns, notably the inadequate provision of basic public services and the pressing need to create jobs for the high numbers of unemployed in Iraq”.

In his statement, Mr. Annan also declares that under international humanitarian law, the Coalition Provisional Authority bears the primary responsibility for the welfare of the Iraqi people. The assistance activities carried out by the United Nations agencies complements those of the Authority itself. (Para. 60)

In a press conference following Secretary General’s presentation, his Special Representative for Iraq, Mr. Sergio de Mello described the reconstruction challenge in this way: “Looking to the future there are clearly immense reconstruction needs in the short and longer terms, not only as a consequence of the conflict but maybe even more as a consequence of thirteen years of sanctions and subsequent neglect and decay. As reflected in resolution1483, this reconstruction is not only of a physical nature but also must include public administration, governance, civil society and all the other vital elements required for a new Iraqi society”.

In describing human rights concerns, Mr. de Mello said: “There are three particular concerns: how to deal with past abuses; how to ensure that human rights are protected for all Iraqis in the future, with particular emphasis placed on the rights of women; and how to ensure that human rights are protected and upheld in Iraq today. All merit close attention”.

In view of the role of the UN Sub-Commission, it should consider undertaking a paper on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of economic sanctions and of postwar reconstruction.


Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Dominican Leadership Conference and Pax Christi International, in conjunction with Franciscans International,

  1. Strongly urge the United Nations through its main human rights bodies to take seriously its Charter obligation to monitor the implementation and respect for international human rights law and to denounce the ongoing violations of the most fundamental human rights of women and children in conflicts and wars and to ensure the application of the guiding principle of the UN Convention on the rights of the child that “in all actions concerning children, the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration.
  2. Urge the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to give high priority to the immediate needs and provide means for full development of the most vulnerable, i.e. children and women, as well as engaging the Iraqi people as fully as possible in the rebuilding and reconstruction of all facets of their own country.
  3. Recommend that the international community through the United Nations continue their search for peaceful and just solutions in all situations of conflict rather than resorting to war which can only bring untold horror and irreversible harm to the most vulnerable.
  4. Urge the international community through the United Nations to take with utmost seriousness its own responsibilities for the monumental and long-term challenge of the recovery and reconstruction of Iraq, devastated both by 13 years of sanctions and by the ravages of war and its aftermath.
  5. Encourage the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights to consider doing a paper on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of economic sanctions and of postwar reconstruction.
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