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2/25/04 - HUMAN RIGHTS IN IRAQ - 2004-02-25

A building formerly used by Saddam Hussin’s Ministry of Defense has a new purpose. The structure now houses the new Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights.

Abd al-Basit Turki heads the ministry. “Because of the nature of the former regime,” he says, “there was a lack of human rights.” Mr. Turki says the ministry will operate a training center for the new Iraqi police force and for Iraqi judges. Iraqis employed by the Ministry of Human Rights are documenting the fate of hundreds of thousands of those missing at the hands of the Saddam Hussein regime. Mass graves are being uncovered. Bushra al-Ubaydi, a researcher at the ministry, says that one site appears to hold only the bodies of children. Evidence collected at this grave site and others will be used when trials are conducted.

The ministry is also preparing an Iraqi Declaration of Human Rights, and is encouraging the establishment of human rights organizations throughout the country. One such group is the Iraqi Political Prisoners League, which collects documents about the Saddam Hussein regime’s torture and killing of political opponents. “I saw hell, but I was alive,” said one League member. “We have a compact disc that we will distribute to show the world how Saddam did his crimes.”

Paul Bremer, administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, said that the Iraqi human rights ministry will serve as a “corrective to decades of perverse government” and will help guide a new Iraqi administration “to serve and protect the people.” Mr. Bremer said the ministry will be part of a representative and sovereign Iraqi government:

“That government should be bound by a transitional administrative law that protects fundamental rights and provides a stable political structure. Under that law, Iraqis will enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and the freedom of religious belief and practice. All Iraqis will stand equally before the law regardless of ethnicity, regardless of religion, and regardless of gender.”

The new Ministry of Human Rights is further evidence of the emergence in Iraq of institutions that are politically accountable.