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Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Occupied Iraq: current problems and future prospects

in association with the International Committee of the Red Cross

Speakers: Professor Christopher Greenwood QC, Professor Françoise Hampson, Professor Philippe Sands QC, Professor Ruth Wedgwood
Chair: Professor Conor Gearty, Centre for the Study of Human Rights
Date: May 2004

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It is now nearly a year since the successful conclusion of the American-led invasion of Iraq. Saddam Hussein and many of his cohorts have been captured or killed. The US forces together with their allies continue their occupation of the country, and their presence in some form or another is likely to remain into the indefinite future. The war continues to be very controversial, with the millions who took to the streets in opposition to it remaining unreconciled to its outcome.

The conflict was partly waged in the name of human rights and humanitarian principle. How do these principles stand in Iraq today? The conduct of military hostilities and the occupation of territory are subject to the rule of international humanitarian law, the provisions of which are meant to ensure the protection and assistance of victims against the effects of both international and non-international armed conflicts. How effective is humanitarian law at achieving these ends in Iraq? The Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions impose certain obligations in relation to prisoners-of-war and the preservation of the infrastructure, administration and economy of occupied territories: are these rules of international law being followed in Iraq? Where humanitarian law does not operate, the full scope of human rights and civil liberties must prevail, but what does this inter-relationship between humanitarian and human rights law mean in practice in occupied Iraq, especially as it moves towards representative government? What is the meaning of the right to democratic government in the context of present day Iraq? What international law duties, if any, does such a right impose, and on whom?

At a more abstract level, the situation in Iraq, and indeed in Afghanistan (which has also been subjected to military operations by a coalition of foreign powers), raises fundamental questions about the state of both international humanitarian and international human rights law. If there are breaches of these laws, is this because these are out-of-date and not suited to modern conditions, particularly in the context of anti-terrorism? Or is the case that the idea of the regulation of international relations in and after war is increasingly considered by powerful states to be an outmoded idea? If this is the case, what are the implications for the regulation of international affairs?

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