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PV 06/04/2006 - 12.2
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PV 06/04/2006 - 13.2

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Thursday, 6 April 2006 - Strasbourg OJ edition

12.2. Iraq: Assyrian community, situation in prisons in Iraq (debate)

  President. – The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on Iraq: Assyrian community, situation in prisons in Iraq(1).


  Nicholson of Winterbourne (ALDE), author. Mr President, the motion in front of you focuses on two key issues of human rights, where two particularly vulnerable groups are gravely at risk in modern-day Iraq. The first issue is that of religious minorities, the second is that of prisoners.

Turning to the religious minorities, there have been extensive assaults recently on Christians and the concomitant lack of aid for the refugees who have fled – who happen to be Christians and Assyrians – into nearby Syria and Jordan.

Let me say immediately that religious persecution is non-Islamic. The Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, declared that Christians would be the best friends of his followers, the Muslims. In the Holy Koran there are clear statements of respect for other faiths. Those who are carrying out these assaults are anarchists: they misuse the name of Islam for their anarchical aim to restore dictatorship with themselves in power.

What can we do? We can urge, as we do in our strong and powerful resolution, the current government at all levels of Iraq to protect religious minorities and – in this resolution – most particularly the Assyrian Christians. We in the European Union could provide support and call upon the international community to provide support for the refugees now numbering hundreds of thousands, I understand, in neighbouring countries such as Syria and Jordan. I urge you to support this resolution.

On the second issue – that of prisoners’ rights – let us remind everyone that the rule of law demands respect for the law on the rights of prisoners. That is something that all of the international community knows, as does the new Iraqi Government. Let us demand, therefore, that the rights of political and other prisoners are fully respected and let the European Union support the establishment of the rule of law from top to bottom, a justice system to support the Iraqi-elected Government.


  Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE), author. (ES) Mr President, since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, thousands of people have been arrested by foreign troops, mostly from the United States and the United Kingdom.

In many of these cases, no specific charges have even been brought and these people have been denied the legal and judicial guarantees appropriate under the rule of law.

According to various sources, around 15 000 people are still in US detention centres in Iraq and an unknown number of people are not contactable and their whereabouts unknown, even to the Red Cross, which is a clear and flagrant violation of international law. They are what we sometimes call ‘phantom prisoners’. Furthermore, thousands of these people have been in this situation for more than a year.

Reports and evidence of torture, humiliation and abuse are not just increasing, but they are becoming increasingly frequent and alarming.

We must add to this the persecution of certain groups suffering as a result of their religious affiliations, as has been said, as I believe this Resolution stresses quite correctly.

Nevertheless, in addition to the Assyrians, who are especially mentioned in the Resolution, I believe that we should take account of other non-Muslim minority groups such as the Yazidi or the Turkmen, for example.

In any event, I would like to make two proposals which I believe to be fundamental, even though they are not taken up in the compromise Resolution itself.

Firstly, I would like to call upon the multinational forces and the Iraqi authorities to publish the names of the people being held, to guarantee them the necessary legal representation and to allow them family visits, as we also recently demanded in the case of Guantánamo.

Secondly, I believe that this House should call loud and clear for all of those people who have been accused of crimes under international law, such as torture and illegal detention, to be tried.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is closely related to the issues we are dealing with in the temporary committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transportation and illegal detention of prisoners.


  Glyn Ford (PSE), author. Mr President, speaking on behalf of the PSE Group I should like to say that we are all aware of the awful situation in Iraq’s prisons. We all know about what happened in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. We very much support the resolution demanding the establishment of detention conditions that conform with international standards. We will be voting in favour of the amendment that asks for the names to be revealed of those people who are held in prison and that they be allowed family visits. We also urge the Iraqi Parliament to ratify the Convention against Torture.

I mainly want to speak on the issue of the Assyrians. As someone who supports and is supported by the ‘Save the Assyrian Campaign’, whose Honorary President is Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, I am well aware of the forgotten people of Iraq. We hear talk about the Sunni, the Shia and the Kurds, but who has been talking about the 800 000 Assyrians that live in Iraq? They make up 8% of the population, which would be considerably larger if it had not been for the fact that, because of persecution, many have fled to Jordan and Syria, where they live in terrible conditions.

We urge the Iraqi authorities to condemn all acts of violence against the Assyrians, the Chaldeans, the Syriacs and other Christian minorities in Iraq. We urge the Iraqi authorities and the multinational force to find the perpetrators of the crimes against them, to facilitate the return and resettlement of the Assyrians in secure environments where their customs and way of life are respected, and urge the Constitutional Committee of the Iraqi Council of Representatives to preserve the cultural and religious rights of all Iraqi communities in its proposals for constitutional amendments.


  Tobias Pflüger (GUE/NGL), author. – (DE) Mr President, according to the latest information, at least 14 000 prisoners are being held in Iraq without any definite charge being laid against them. Amnesty International does not mince its words when it says that the occupying powers – the USA and the United Kingdom – are, by keeping them prisoner, directly violating international law and that they have failed to learn any lessons from Abu Ghraib.

There is no doubt about it; these prisons in Iraq are part of the policy of occupation. It is the occupation of Iraq that is the real political problem, and we should not beat about the bush in saying so.

A whole array of EU Member States are, alas, directly involved in this occupation – the United Kingdom and Poland among them. The EU itself has a hand in what is going on in Iraq in the shape – among other things – of the Eurojust-Lex programme, which, I believe, needs to be reviewed, since, if the present legal system is to be judged by the vast number of people in jail, the programme can hardly be effective in any real sense.

We must, then, demand in clear terms that the occupation of Iraq and the human rights violations in its prisons be brought to an end, and it is the European Parliament that must make that demand, and in very, very clear language.


  Bernd Posselt (PPE-DE), author. – (DE) Mr President, I have to say at the very start that I think it a scandal that Mr Pflüger had nothing whatever to say about the plight of Christians in Iraq, although that is perhaps understandable if one is aware that his party still lives off the money of another state in which Christians were subject to great persecution, that state being the GDR.

I have to tell him, though, that there are many points on which I agree with him. I was – and still am – a forthright critic of the intervention in Iraq, and I do believe that we have to very objectively assess what has resulted from it. The main justification for this intervention adduced by those who sought to justify it was the need to improve the state of human rights under Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime. There have indeed been some improvements, but we must, unfortunately, note that a number of things have also got worse.

First among these – and a major one – is the fact that the intervention caused the very complex ethnic balance in what was an artificial state created by the colonial powers after the First World War to be upset, and that nobody has any idea how to create a proper state in Iraq.

The hardest hit by all this are the less numerous peoples and particularly the small minorities such as the Assyrians and other small ethnic groupings. I am very struck by the way in which so many in this House find it so difficult to stand up for the rights of Christians and to speak up in their defence. Here is a minority that is being persecuted for its Christian faith. Who shall plead their cause if not this Europe of ours, the inhabitants of which are 85% Christian?

We in this House must stand in solidarity with all those who are persecuted, with everyone whose human rights are violated, but there should be some sort of natural bond between the mainly Christian Europe and the ancient Christian minorities in this region, who have a very troubled history to look back on and who suffer in a particular way from the unstable conditions that prevail today. They are persecuted for being Christian, and their persecutors are extremist elements that – as Lady Nicholson put it so very well – misuse Islam for political reasons in order to subjugate and enslave the minorities they do not like. It is a politicised Islam that persecutes these minorities.

We have every right to be critical of the state of affairs in the prisons. What must be plain to us is that, while we have overthrown a dictatorship, and are engaged in building up democracy and the rule of law – an objective I endorse and that needs masses of support from the EU – we must then be willing to be judged by appropriate standards. The conditions under which prisoners are kept and the justice system are the first steps on the road to a functioning state under the rule of law, and this is particularly true of those prisons that are run by others rather than by the Iraqis themselves.

All things considered, one has to say that human rights are indivisible, and turning a blind eye is not an effective way for anybody to stand up for human rights.


  Michał Tomasz Kamiński (UEN), author. (PL) Mr President, my party and I have always supported and still support the intervention in Iraq by Western democracies in defence of basic values and fundamental human rights. From the standpoint of a supporter of the intervention in Iraq by the United States and other democratic powers, I have to say that it is with great concern and sadness that I receive news of indications of human rights infringements perpetrated by a government which was supposed to be democratic and which should have brought democracy to Iraq.

In fact, we find ourselves in an unfortunate situation if, after toppling Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, we continue to witness human rights abuses in Iraq. That is precisely why, although I do not agree with many of the speakers before me and disagree with the use of the term ‘invasion’ to describe what happened in Iraq, in this case I have to admit that we should act together in this House and clearly demand that both the Western democracies and the new democratic government in Iraq should respect human rights. For it is only respect for human rights that will legitimise the actions that my country, irrespective of the government in power at the time, also supported.

I would also like to state very clearly that it is laudable that the House has found the strength to speak up in defence of a Christian minority. We must also acknowledge that Christians are persecuted not only in Iraq but throughout the world and we, as Europeans, should come to the defence of the community which the honourable speaker before me mentioned.

In Europe today, and in the European Union in particular, the rights of minorities are guaranteed. The rights of religious minorities, Muslims and all other minorities one could possibly imagine and which exist on our continent are also guaranteed. It is the norm and forms part of the achievement that the European Union represents. It also represents the current state of European civilisation.

This is precisely why we have the right to call for human rights for Christians. Events taking place in Iraq affect, and this is particularly important, an ancient people from that region. It is a people whose Christianity and ethnic roots, which are inextricably tied to Iraqi soil, are deeply embedded in history. It is not an immigrant people; they are not invaders. They are the autochthonous inhabitants of those lands.

As is often the case in this House, this resolution represents a compromise enjoying cross-party support. I hope that, in this resolution, we will be just as unequivocal in calling for the new Iraqi democratic government to respect human rights as in calling for the religious freedom of all inhabitants of Iraq to be guaranteed.


  Józef Pinior, on behalf of the PSE Group. (PL) Mr President, over the last few months in Iraq, we have seen an increase in violence against religious minorities. On the 29 January, for example, four churches and the Vatican embassy building in Baghdad, and two churches in Kirkuk, became the targets of attacks. Three people, including a 14-year-old boy, were killed and many more were wounded. This violence is directed against the Assyrian community in particular as well as against other Christian minorities. The Assyrian community is descended from an ancient people who inhabited these lands and it is threatened with forced displacement. As a result, world culture faces the disappearance of Assyrian culture in Iraq.

The most important issue related to the rebuilding of Iraq remains guaranteeing the rule of law. The political situation bears many of the hallmarks of a civil war and it must not be allowed to deteriorate into a dirty war, where the forces of law and order constantly use torture, hostages are taken and lawlessness characterises the fight against rebel forces. Iraq needs more judges, a professional police force and a penal system which meets international standards.

The Iraqi Human Rights Ministry and the EU Integrated Rule of Law Mission for Iraq Eurojust Lex should play a particularly important role in controlling this problem. The European Union must now decide to extend the mandate of this mission with respect to the training of Iraqi forces of law and order and forensic medicine.


  Marios Matsakis, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, ‘nearly three years after United States and allied forces invaded Iraq and toppled the government of Saddam Hussein, the human rights situation in the country remains dire’. That is the introductory sentence to the most recent report by Amnesty International on detention and torture in Iraq. Well-documented reports like that and many others make very grim reading indeed, recounting instances of arbitrary detention, widespread torture including brutal beatings, the breaking of bones, electric shocks, pulling nails out, hanging chained people from the ceiling, causing burns, rape and sexual humiliation, attacks by dogs, extrajudicial killings and many more.

Colleagues, these despicable crimes are not happening in evil Hussein’s prisons, but in US- and British-controlled and run prisons. We rightly blamed Hussein for what was happening more than three years ago. Must we not now blame Bush and Blair and hold them responsible for the gross disrespect of human life and dignity occurring in prisons in Iraq today? After all, we in the West must ensure that we set the highest standards and are not found guilty of the ill-treatment of fellow human beings whose lives are in our hands.


  Erik Meijer, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (NL) Mr President, for a long time, Iraq was subjected to a terrible regime, terrible for its opponents, prisoners, minorities, and even terrible for the large majority. We are now learning from first-hand experience the answer to the question as to whether external intervention really can improve such a situation. It may well have done so for a handful of groups, such as the Kurds in the north, who had brought about a factual split from Iraq a long time ago, and also the political opponents who had fled the country.

To most people, Iraq is not a state in which they share but rather a battlefield between external interests and the very divergent group interests of, and the opinions held by, Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and the Christian minorities who predated the Islamic era, and who, unlike the other groups, do not have their own territory as a possible federal state in a federation.

Although we completely share Mr Posselt’s concerns about this group, nobody is able to offer a real solution under the current circumstances. The foreign occupiers have let the prison system deteriorate further, have allowed the re-introduction of the death penalty and cannot offer a future to a large majority of the people. Whilst the proposed resolution is right to identify a number of flaws, it is still far too optimistic and does not really contribute to a solution of the problems. It is important to draw the lesson that military interventions do not solve anything.


  Urszula Krupa, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. (PL) Mr President, today’s debate concerns the Assyrian community in Iraq and the problem of torture in Iraqi prisons. Whereas individual soldiers belonging to the international forces occupying Iraq are convicted of infringing the human rights of prisoners, the increased violence against Christians comes from Islamic extremists. They use blackmail and extortion, attack churches and carry out other acts of abuse which threaten the existence of the oldest Assyrian community in these lands, a community which speaks Chaldo-Aramaic.

Massacres of the Assyrian people are nothing new, as 33 of them have been recorded since the third century, but they have become increasingly frequent in recent times. However, aggression and violence are not a way of solving the complex problems in this region. Violence breeds violence, just as aggression breeds aggression. The situation thus requires national dialogue, acceptance of religious differences and, as the resolution states, it requires the perpetrators of the violence to be identified and brought to justice. It needs to be made easier for refugees to return home, and real aid also needs to be delivered to Iraqis to rebuild their country.

Violence is not a good or long-term solution to problems anywhere in the world. This is why we appeal for respect for human rights and dignity.


  Marek Aleksander Czarnecki (NI). – (PL) Mr President, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that no one may be unlawfully detained and that imprisonment must be in keeping with the letter of the law. That is what the legislation states, but what is the reality?

It is common knowledge that conditions in prisons in Iraq fall below all humanitarian and sanitary standards. Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment is used. The American authorities boast that they investigate all reports of inappropriate treatment of prisoners. The Pentagon states that, over the last few years, disciplinary action has been taken against 200 soldiers accused of inappropriate treatment of prisoners. If we do want to plant the seeds of democracy in this country, we shall certainly not be able to do so while our representatives there become perpetrators instead of bringing aid.


  Jaromír Kohlíček (GUE/NGL).(CS) The humanitarian disaster in Iraq is the result of the aggression perpetrated by the United States and the ‘coalition of the willing'. In case some of you are not aware to which countries this refers, the next in line are the United Kingdom and Poland, followed by a number of other countries. Among other things, representatives from these countries have been training Iraqi policemen, and I am sure that they will have made use of this opportunity to urge the policemen to uphold international standards on treating prisoners. I am also sure that the prisoners will have been informed under paragraph 9(b) of this resolution how to raise an objection in court effectively. I believe that the other procedures to which the motion for a resolution correctly refers will also have been discussed with them. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen policemen in Iraq protesting against the situation of prisoners or the mistreatment of minorities. We must therefore take a firm line on these issues and adopt this motion for a resolution, in its amended form. It would therefore, in turn, be opportune for the criteria contained in the resolution to serve as the basis for the guidelines for future negotiations on aid for today’s occupying force and the puppet regime. I support the resolution.


  Markos Kyprianou, Member of the Commission. Mr President, we are increasingly concerned about ethnic and religious violence and its possible escalation in Iraq. Lack of respect for human rights and the rule of law in Iraq is a matter of grave concern for the international community. All ethnic and religious communities of Iraq, including the Assyrians, have the right to protection and to practise their ethnic, religious, political, administrative and cultural rights.

The European Union supports the development of a secure, stable and democratic Iraq, with a parliament and a government, elected on the basis of a constitution that guarantees respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Iraqi population as a whole. This is one of the key objectives for the European Union as laid down in the medium-term strategy of June 2004. This objective is just as valid today as it was then.

The Commission emphasises the importance of effective protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and encourages the Iraqi Government to take appropriate action. This should also include the abolition of the death penalty which, to the strong disappointment of the European Union, was re-introduced by the Iraqi authorities in 2004.

We join the international community in expressing our deepest concern at the cases of alleged torture and ill-treatment of Iraqi prisoners. We condemn any incidents of abuse of prisoners in Iraq, whether by Iraqi forces or by multinational forces, as contrary to international humanitarian law, and call for those responsible to be brought to justice. We have noted that the UK, the US and Iraqi authorities have launched investigations into reports of such abuse and some of those responsible for torture and ill-treatment have already been sentenced. We underline the obligations set out in the Geneva Conventions, that recourse to torture or inhuman treatment is a grave breach of those Conventions.

It is vital for Iraq and the international community to work together to reassert full respect for international law, including human rights and humanitarian standards.

The European Union is committed to actively supporting the stabilisation of Iraq. The Commission and the European Union Member States are working together to strengthen the rule of law through an ESDP – European Security and Defence Policy – operation called EUJUST LEX. It is an Integrated Rule of Law Mission providing training in EU Member States in the fields of management and criminal investigation for 770 senior officials and executive staff of the Iraqi judiciary, police and prisons. An essential element of that operation is training on human rights.

In addition, we support the promotion of human rights, an important component of which deals with torture prevention and victim rehabilitation, and we support electoral processes and the constitutional process, working with the United Nations.


  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at the end of the debates.


(1) See Minutes

Last updated: 22 June 2006Legal notice