U.N. Report on Human Rights in Iraq Draws U.S. Denunciation

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By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 26, 2007

BAGHDAD, April 25 -- A new human rights report by the United Nations mission in Iraq described high levels of ongoing violence, an unfair and potentially abusive detainee system and a country suffering a "breakdown in law and order." The report upset the U.S. Embassy here, which characterized it as inaccurate and not credible.

The 30-page report by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, an appraisal of human rights conditions from January through March, said the Iraqi government is up against "immense security challenges in the face of growing violence and armed opposition to its authority and the rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis."

For the first time, the United Nations did not include civilian death tolls, statistics that are usually provided to it by the Health Ministry and the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad. The data have become a key gauge of the level of violence in Iraq. In the last report, the United Nations said 34,452 Iraqi civilians had died violently in 2006, a number that the Iraqi government later said was exaggerated.

The report said the Iraqi government told the United Nations "that it had decided against providing the data, although no substantive explanation or justification was provided."

Two U.S. Embassy officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, convened a conference call with reporters to criticize the report. "There are numerous factual inaccuracies," one official said. The officials said they did not believe the Iraqi government was trying to withhold information but is attempting to consolidate the death toll figures into some "verifiable system."

"If the prime minister's office has decided that they want to consolidate, then they should have consolidated," said Said Arikat, a U.N. spokesman in Baghdad. "These figures are important."

The United Nations said that by the end of March, 37,641 people were being detained throughout Iraq, including 17,898 in U.S. custody and 17,063 spread across the Iraqi ministries of Justice, Interior and Defense. It expressed concern about the U.S. military's "indefinite internment of detainees" and people "held for prolonged periods effectively without charge or trial."

Current procedures dictate that "security internees are denied access to defense counsel during first 60 days of internment," the report said. It also cited the "continuing failure of the Iraqi government as a whole to seriously address issues relating to detainee abuse and conditions of detention."

The embassy officials disputed the 60-day figure, saying that visitors usually cannot meet with detainees in U.S. custody for 30 days but that exceptions are made for attorneys. A U.S. military spokesman said in an e-mail that there are no time limitations on allowing Iraqi defense attorneys access to clients.

Ivana Vuco, a U.N. human rights officer in Baghdad, said: "We are aware of the fact that they have U.S. lawyers deal with the detainees' cases. However, what we are saying is that detainees have not been allowed to have their own lawyers present, which is the process that we would advocate for."

Violence continued Wednesday as a suicide bomber detonated explosives inside an Iraqi police station in Balad Ruz in volatile Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad. News services reported that at least four policemen were killed and 16 others were injured in the attack.

Special correspondent K.I. Ibrahim contributed to this report.


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