Human rights in Saddam Hussein's Iraq

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Hangings in Saddam-era Iraq.

Iraq's era under President Saddam Hussein was notorious for its severe violations of human rights. Secret police, torture, mass murder, rape, deportations, forced disappearances, assassinations, chemical warfare, and the destruction of southern Iraq's marshes were some of the methods the country's Ba'athist government used to maintain control. The total number of deaths related to torture and murder during this period are unknown. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued regular reports of widespread imprisonment and torture.

Documented human rights violations 1979–2003[edit]

Human rights organizations have documented government-approved executions, acts of torture and rape for decades since Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979 until his fall in 2003.

Mass grave.
  • In 2002, a resolution sponsored by the European Union was adopted by the Commission for Human Rights, which stated that there had been no improvement in the human rights crisis in Iraq. The statement condemned President Saddam Hussein's government for its "systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law". The resolution demanded that Iraq immediately put an end to its "summary and arbitrary executions... and the use of rape as a political tool and all enforced and involuntary disappearances".[1]
  • Full political participation at the national level was restricted only to members of the Ba'ath Party, which constituted only 8% of the population.
  • Iraqi citizens were not legally allowed to assemble unless it was to express support for the government. The Iraqi government controlled the establishment of political parties, regulated their internal affairs and monitored their activities.
  • Police checkpoints on Iraq's roads and highways prevented ordinary citizens from traveling across country without government permission and expensive exit visas prevented Iraqi citizens from traveling abroad. Before traveling, an Iraqi citizen had to post collateral. Iraqi females could not travel outside of the country without the escort of a male relative.[2]
  • The activities of citizens living inside Iraq who received money from relatives abroad were closely monitored[citation needed].
  • Halabja poison gas attack:The Halabja poison gas attack occurred in the period 15–19 March 1988 during the Iran–Iraq War when chemical weapons were used by the Iraqi government forces and thousands of civilians in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja were killed.[3]
  • Al-Anfal Campaign: In 1988, the Hussein regime began a campaign of extermination against the Kurdish people living in Northern Iraq. This is known as the Anfal campaign. A team of Human Rights Watch investigators determined, after analyzing eighteen tons of captured Iraqi documents, testing soil samples and carrying out interviews with more than 350 witnesses, that the attacks on the Kurdish people were characterized by gross violations of human rights, including mass executions and disappearances of many tens of thousands of noncombatants, widespread use of chemical weapons including Sarin, mustard gas and nerve agents that killed thousands, the arbitrary imprisoning of tens of thousands of women, children, and elderly people for months in conditions of extreme deprivation, forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of villagers after the demolition of their homes, and the wholesale destruction of nearly two thousand villages along with their schools, mosques, farms and power stations.[3][4]
  • In April 1991, after Saddam lost control of Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War, he cracked down ruthlessly against several uprisings in the Kurdish north and the Shia south. His forces committed full-scale massacres and other gross human rights violations against both groups similar to the violations mentioned before.[5]
  • In June 1994, the Hussein regime in Iraq established severe penalties, including amputation, branding and the death penalty for criminal offenses such as theft, corruption, currency speculation and military desertion, while government members and Saddam's family members were immune from punishments ranging around these crimes.[6]
  • In 2001, the Iraqi government amended the Constitution to make sodomy a capital offense.
  • On March 23, 2003, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Iraqi television presented and interviewed prisoners of war on TV, violating the Geneva Convention.
  • Also in April 2003, CNN revealed that it had withheld information about Iraq torturing journalists and Iraqi citizens in the 1990s. According to CNN's chief news executive, the channel had been concerned for the safety not only of its own staff, but also of Iraqi sources and informants, who could expect punishment for speaking freely to reporters. Also according to the executive, "other news organizations were in the same bind."[7]
  • After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, several mass graves were found in Iraq containing several thousand bodies total and more are being uncovered to this day.[8] While most of the dead in the graves were believed to have died in the 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein, some of them appeared to have died due to executions or died at times other than the 1991 rebellion.
  • Also after the invasion, numerous torture centers were found in security offices and police stations throughout Iraq. The equipment found at these centers typically included hooks for hanging people by the hands for beatings, devices for electric shock and other equipment often found in nations with harsh security services and other authoritarian nations.

'Saddam's Dirty Dozen'[edit]

According to officials of the United States State Department, many human rights abuses in Saddam Hussein's Iraq were largely carried out in person or by the orders of Saddam Hussein and eleven other people. The term "Saddam's Dirty Dozen" was coined in October 2002 (from a novel by E.M. Nathanson, later adapted as a film directed by Robert Aldrich) and used by US officials to describe this group. Most members of the group held high positions in the Iraqi government and membership went all the way from Saddam's personal guard to Saddam's sons. The list was used by the Bush Administration to help argue that the 2003 Iraq war was against Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party leadership, rather than against the Iraqi people. The members are:

  • Saddam Hussein (1937–2006), Iraqi President, responsible for many torturings, killings and of ordering the 1988 cleansing of Kurds in Northern Iraq.
  • Qusay Hussein (1966–2003), son of the president, head of the elite Republican Guard, believed to have been chosen by Saddam as his successor.
  • Uday Hussein (1964–2003), son of the president, had a private torture chamber, and was responsible for the rapes and killings of many women. He was partially paralyzed after a 1996 attempt on his life, and was leader of the paramilitary group Fedayeen Saddam and of the Iraqi media.
  • Taha Yassin Ramadan (1938-2007), Vice-President, born in Iraqi Kurdistan. He oversaw the mass killings of a Shi'a revolt in 1991.
  • Tariq Aziz (1936–2015), Foreign Minister of Iraq, backed up the executions by hanging of political opponents after the revolution of 1968.
  • Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti (1951-2007), Hussein's brother, leader of the Iraqi secret service, Mukhabarat. He was Iraq's representative to the United Nations in Geneva.
  • Sabawi Ibrahim al-Tikriti (1947-2013), Hussein's half brother, he was the leader of the Mukhabarat during the 1991 Gulf War. Director of Iraq's general security from 1991 to 1996. He was involved in the 1991 suppression of Kurds.
  • Watban Ibrahim al-Tikriti (1952–2015), Hussein's half brother, former senior Interior Minister who was also Saddam's presidential adviser. Shot in the leg by Uday Hussein in 1995. He has ordered tortures, rapes, murders and deportations.
  • Ali Hassan al-Majid (1941-2010), Chemical Ali, mastermind behind Saddam's lethal gassing of rebel Kurds in 1988; a first cousin of Saddam Hussein.
  • Izzat Ibrahim ad-Douri (b. 1942), military commander, vice-president of the Revolutionary Command Council and deputy commander in chief of the armed forces during various military campaigns.
  • Aziz Saleh Nuhmah (b. ?), appointed governor of Kuwait from November 1990 to February 1991, ordered looting of stores and rapes of Kuwaiti women during his tenure. Also ordered the destruction of Shi'a holy sites during the 1970s and 1980s as governor of two Iraqi provinces.
  • Mohammed Hamza Zubeidi (1938-2005), alias Saddam's thug, Prime Minister of Iraq from 1991 to 1993 – to have ordered many executions.

Other atrocities[edit]

"Fifty-seven boxes were recently returned to the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya in Zeit trucks—large Russian military vehicles—by the Iraqi government authorities. Each box contained a dead child, eyes gouged out and ashen white, apparently drained of blood. The families were not given their children, were forced to accept a communal grave, and then had to pay 150 dinars for the burial."[9]

Methods of torture used by Saddam's regime included assault with brass knuckles and wooden bludgeons; electric shocks to the genitalia; scorched metal rods being forced into body orifices; the crushing of toes and removal of toenails; burning off limbs; lowering prisoners into vats of acid; poisoning with thallium; raping women in front of their family members; burning with cigarette butts; the crushing of bones; the amputation of ears, limbs, and tongues; and the gouging of eyes.[10] The destruction of Shi'ite religious shrines by the former government has been compared "to the leveling of cities in the Second World War, and the damage to the shrines [of Hussein and Abbas] was more serious than that which had been done to many European cathedrals."[11] After the 1983-88 genocide, some 1 million Kurds were allowed to resettle in "model villages". According to a U.S. Senate staff report, these villages "were poorly constructed, had minimal sanitation and water, and provided few employment opportunities for the residents. Some, if not most, were surrounded by barbed wire, and Kurds could enter or leave only with difficulty."[12]

Number of victims[edit]

In January 2004, Human Rights Watch stated: "Having devoted extensive time and effort to documenting [Saddam's] atrocities, we estimate that in the last twenty-five years of Ba'th Party rule the Iraqi government murdered or 'disappeared' some quarter of a million Iraqis, if not more."[13] The 1988 Al-Anfal campaign resulted in the death of 50,000-100,000 Kurds (although Kurdish sources have cited a higher figure of 182,000), while upwards of 25,000 civilians and rebels were killed during the suppression of the 1991 uprisings.[5][14] In addition, 4,000 prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison were reportedly executed in a particularly large 1984 purge.[15] Far fewer Iraqis are known to have been executed during other years of Saddam's rule. For example, "Amnesty International reported that in 1981 over 350 people were officially executed in Iraq ... the Committee Against Repression in Iraq gives biographic particulars on 798 executions (along with 264 killings of unknown persons, and 428 biographies of unsentenced detainees and disappeared persons)." Kanan Makiya cautions that a focus on the death toll obscures the full extent of "the terror inside Iraq," which was largely the product of the pervasive secret police and systematic use of torture.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "UN condemns Iraq on human rights". BBC News. 2002-04-19. 
  2. ^ JURIST - Dateline
  3. ^ a b "Whatever Happened To The Iraqi Kurds?". Retrieved 2009-09-25. 
  4. ^ "Iraq: 'Disappearances' – the agony continues". 2005-07-30. Retrieved 2009-09-25. 
  5. ^ a b "ENDLESS TORMENT, The 1991 Uprising in Iraq And Its Aftermath". Retrieved 2016-08-21. An independent French organization called The Truth About the Gulf War reported in June 1991 after a trip to Iraq that authorities were vague about the toll of the uprising, but 'the figures given for those killed, most of them in southern Iraq and the overwhelming majority of them civilians, ranged from 25,000 to 100,000 dead.' ... The environmental organization Greenpeace estimates that 30,000 Iraqi civilians, including rebels, and 5,000 Iraqi soldiers died during the uprisings as a result of the clashes and killings, while acknowledging that 'little authoritative information is available.' ... A demographer at the U.S. Census Bureau, Beth Osborne Daponte, also arrived at the figure of 30,000 civilian deaths during the uprising. 
  6. ^ "Human Rights Watch, Iraq archive". Retrieved 2009-09-25. 
  7. ^ Jordan, Eason (April 11, 2003). "The News We (CNN) Kept To Ourselves". The New York Times.  (requires login)
  8. ^ "Mass Grave Discovery In Iraq Could Fuel Divisions". Retrieved 6 July 2016. 
  9. ^ Pryce-Jones, David (1989-01-01). "Self-Determination, Arab-Style". Commentary. Retrieved 2016-09-27. 
  10. ^ Perazzo, John, Iraqi Horrors the "Peace Movement" Ignores, FrontPage Magazine, November 29, 2002.
  11. ^ Milton Viorst, "Report from Baghdad," The New Yorker, June 24, 1991, p. 72.
  12. ^ “Kurdistan in the Time of Saddam Hussein," p. 15. See also "Civil War in Iraq," Staff Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the U.S. Senate, May 1991, pp. 8-9.
  13. ^ "War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention". Human Rights Watch. 2004-01-25. Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  14. ^ Johns, Dave (2006-01-24). "The Crimes of Saddam Hussein: The Anfal Campaign". PBS. Retrieved 2016-08-21. 
  15. ^ Chauhan, Sharad S. (2003). War on Iraq. APH Publishing. p. 65. ISBN 9788176484787. 
  16. ^ Makiya, Kanan (1998). Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq, Updated Edition. University of California Press. pp. 63–65. ISBN 9780520921245. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]