A Legal Quagmire


A Legal Quagmire

The US and UK governments are aggressors. They stand condemned for launching an attack on an independent state while the UN Security Council was still dealing with the question of Iraq and weapons inspections, and UN inspectors were operating under a UN mandate.

The US and UK have a duty to protect and care for the people of Iraq and should pay the cost of reconstruction as reparations for their war of aggression. Jim Addington puts the case.

The US and British governments have stepped into a legal quagmire. Failing to gain UN authority for the attack on Iraq they have the responsibility for paying for the war damage. Under international law, as occupying powers, they are required to protect the people of Iraq, maintain order and provide essential humanitarian aid. This is required by Article 55 of the 4th Geneva Convention and Article 69 of the 1st Protocol. The British government has acknowledged this responsibility but not the compensation. Unless the international community, the United Nations, can enforce the Geneva and Hague conventions which impose this liability restoration may be paid by the Iraqi people.

The 'allies' claim their action was justified, citing UN Security Council resolutions, principally 678 and 687 of the 1991 Gulf war to evict Iraq from Kuwait, and 1441 of November 2002 which called on the Iraq government to disarm. No state was asked to undertake military action. The UN authority in 1991, was supported by many UN member states. No such support was forthcoming for a renewed attack this year. There was no majority in the Security Council for an attack. It was opposed by three permanent members, France, Russia and China. The French government, within its rights under the UN Charter, threatened to use its veto. The position of the US and British governments, under International law and the practice of the Security Council under the Charter is quite clear. They are aggressors. Nobody questions the authority of the UN Security Council to deal with international peace and security. The Charter states that while the Council "is seized of a matter" it cannot be dealt with by any other agency, and the Council is still involved.

When military action was taken on 20th March the Council was dealing with Iraq's compliance with resolution 1441. UN appointed inspectors were about to issue a further interim report. But the US and UK governments prevented it. Nobody questions the appointment of the inspectors or their duty to report to the Council. They were only recalled from Iraq after the de-militarised zone between Kuwait and Iraq was entered by US forces and the US government warned through an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein that military action was imminent. No resolution was

put to a vote.

In 1991 enforcement action was taken by a wide coalition of states under the direction of the United States, many of whom took an active part in the military action. This time the principal military action has been by two states, the US and UK who conducted the invasion. They are responsible to the United Nations for their actions. Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, told the Spanish newspaper El Pais that "there is evidence that this war was planned well in advance". He accused the US and Britain of "fabricating evidence" of weapons and said that Iraq was paying "a very high price...in terms of human lives and the destruction of a country" when the threat of banned weapons could have been contained by UN inspectors. Having dismissed the UN inspectors, the United States government has now sent its own. Non-governmental humanitarian agencies are standing by to bring aid to the people of Iraq. The United Nations has a duty to assist and is willing to provide assistance. Under the Conventions the occupying power has a duty to work with them and has a responsibility to provide support. No time should be lost in creating the conditions in which aid can be brought in safely. The occupiers have no other status in international law and should withdraw, allow the United Nations to take the primary role in assisting the Iraqi people to take control of their country and pay reparations for the enormous suffering and damage they have wantonly caused. This must be resolved by an urgent UN Security Council meeting. If the Council is again unable to reach agreement it should be referred to the General Assembly under the 'Uniting For Peace' Resolution No. 337 of 1950. It will then be a responsibility of all the members of the United Nations.

Jim Addington is chair of the UK group Action for UN Renewal