UN and human rights groups call on UK to impose order in southern Iraq

09 April 2003
Both the UN and Human Rights Watch on 8 April expressed concern about the authority vacuum in the southern Iraqi town of Umm Qasr and the city of Basra, calling on the occupying UK forces to impose law and order. Widespread looting has been ongoing since the Baath party's control over the towns was broken. The UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq (OHCI), Ramiro Lopez da Silva, is pursuing the matter with UK forces, warning them that under international law an occupying power must assume responsibility for security, a spokesman said in a briefing in Amman. Human Rights Watch echoed these concerns. 'The responsibility of US and coalition forces doesn't end when they defeat opposing troops,' said executive director Kenneth Roth. 'Occupying forces are responsible for protecting civilians, not just during combat but in the aftermath of fighting.' The group fears that in the atmosphere of lawlessness, civilians could begin carrying out reprisal attacks against those accused of being to close to Saddam Hussein's regime, particularly in Basra, Najaf and Kerbala. Government buildings being looted may contain documents that would be important as evidence in post-war trials of human rights violators. The British army on 8 April pledged that they would begin imposing authority in Basra, having initially allowed the looting to convince residents that the Baath regime had genuinely been defeated.

In the town of Qalat Sukkar, 150 kilometres southeast of Baghdad, the New York Times reported that civilians were forced to request that US troops impose their authority after armed gangs moved into the vacuum left by the departure of the regular Iraqi police.

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