by Voices in the Wilderness –
(September 6, 2003) ElectronicIraq.net — Last Tuesday, August 26, eight Voices in the Wilderness (VITW) activists disrupted one of General Sanchez’ regular press briefings on occupation force activities and casualties, initially asking difficult questions of the General before escalating into a protest.
Ramzi Kysia asked why the forces did not investigate civilian killings with any semblance of the same effort as they do when soldiers are killed. “Is this because Iraqi lives are not deemed as valuable as American lives?” he asked. The reply was that investigations are always held into any civilian death at the hands of ‘coalition forces’ and that any civilian death is taken very seriously.
After a volley of various fobbed off questions, Ewa Jasiewicz got on the microphone and read out the names of six civilians killed in the Sulleikh, North Baghdad, on August 7th.
Troops from the first armored brigade of the first armored division, opened fire on three cars driving down Rabbia street at approximately 9:30 PM on a power-cut darkened summer night.
The first car, carrying Saif Raed Azawi (20) and his two friends was fired upon over 20 times (we counted the bullet holes), Saif was shot to death, his friends managed to exit the car, suffering from bullet wounds themselves (confirmed by Captain John Mostellar, head of the First Brigade of the First Armored Division) and were beaten, blindfolded,
arrested and taken away. Up to five witnesses were also shot and two US soldiers suffered injuries, sustained from their own crossfire.
The second car, also shot at over 20 times, contained Adel Abdul Kareem (42, father), Hadir Al-Kawas (19, son), Ola Al Kawas (16, daughter), Mervit al Kawas (8, daughter) and Hadeel (14, daughter) and his wife Anwar (40). Anwar and her daughter Hadeel were the only members of the Kawas family to survive, the rest were shot to death. The cause of their deaths in their death certificates, issued at the Medical Legal Institute at Medical City Hospital in Baghdad, was left unwritten, the space for a reason being left starkly empty, something the director of Medical City said he’d never come across in his lifetime and was, “impossible”.
The third car was inhabited by Ali Hekmat (31) alone, who fled the scene at the sight of the carnage unfolding in front of him, was fired upon, and lost control of his car, swerving into a palm-log road block, overturning and dying on impact.
Ewa held up a beautiful portrait picture of the Abu Kawas family, taken two years ago, and read out the names of the dead, in honor of their lives, going on to say, “All killed by US troops from the first brigade of the first armored division in Sulleikh. And there has been NO response, NO comment, NO apology (at this point her microphone was cut and she stood up and continued loudly) and NO accountability from occupation troops. (At this point Caoimhe Butterly stood up, holding a copy of the family portrait and unfurled a black and white ‘mourning’ banner with ‘THE KILLING CONTINUES’ written upon it in Arabic and English.
Ewa went on to say, “You say there was an investigation but what is the criteria for this investigation when none of the survivors have been interviewed, none of the witnesses have been interviewed (at this point she was grabbed by the waist by a soldier who attempted to steer her out)under the Geneva conventions crimes against humanity must be tried in an international court,” (at this point three soldiers have Ewa and are dragging her away).
“The Geneva conventions have been broken! Under convention 146, those responsible for war crimes must be brought to justice. Your soldiers have no respect for human life! This family needs justice! You killed this family,”(holding the picture of the family aloft all the while).
Two soldiers have Caoimhe at this point and are steering her out, she shouts: “The family are calling for an independent and transparent international investigation into the killings. Why is there no accountability?” (she resists and is forcibly dragged further).
“Your soldiers are in breach of the Fourth Geneva Conventions. If they are not brought to justice how will you prevent this from happening again? The families have no access to this place. It is your responsibility to meet with them, why will you not speak with them, what are you hiding? You owe them at least that.”
Both activists were then shoved outside with the picture of the Al Kawas family snatched off both Ewa and Caoimhe crumpled into a ball and thrown on the ground.
Outside the conference hall, the two were threatened with being taken to a detention center and had their pictures taken without their consent. These pictures have now been published in the Occupation Forces weekly newspaper The Liberator so that,(from the same soldier who threatened Ewa and Caoimhe with detention) “Wherever they go, any checkpoint or patrol, they can be recognized.” They both refused to give their names.
The first person to be pointed to by General Sanchez to continue asking questions following the disruption and ejection of Ewa and Caoimhe was Kathy Kelly, co-founder of Voices. Sanchez groaned and appeared drawn as she introduced herself, and laughter and disbelief erupted in the hall. She asked a challenging question about the treatment of detainees and prisoners and why all human rights had been suspended with regard to them.
Following the conference, all the Voices activists were detained and had their passports confiscated, photocopied and filed by Occupation troops.
Ewa and Caoimhe have been banned from the Convention Center and journalists now have to sign their names, write their emails and phone numbers and hand over their (photo) press ID to get into press conferences. When journalists complained at the tediousness of the 1 and a half hour process, they were told, collectively, on the microphone by one of Sanchez’s representatives, “Well, don’t blame us! If you want to blame someone, blame those two young ladies who disrupted the conference last week.” Journalists were also told that the reason they had been moved into a smaller room was because if anyone had any plans to bring out banners or disrupt the conference, they would be ejected far more swiftly and unceremoniously than in the larger room.
Many Iraqi people expressed their gratitude and applauded (literally, in the street) the action taken by Voices in the Wildreness. Other journalists said they wished they had the leeway to take the same stand.
The protest was broadcast live on CNN and was carried five times on the popular Arabic channels Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera (headline news) and Abu Dhabi. BBC Middle East Radio also covered the action and broadcast interviews with Ewa and Caoimhe in Arabic, and many newspapers, both local and international, wrote it up.
Irish legal firm Magden and Finucane, currently representing victims of the Bloody Sunday massacre have been advising the Al Kawas, Hekmat, and Azawi families with regards to bringing about a major lawsuit against the Occupation Forces and the US government for the killing of their loved ones. New York law human rights firms have expressed an interst in taking on the case Pro Bono.
Under Occupation Administration Regulations, no Iraqi is allowed to raise legal proceedings against any Coalition Force body. Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions states that it is the responsibility of an occupying power to ensure that if a criminal incident is committed by their forces, a criminal investigation must be conducted into the circumstances and perpetration of the crime.
Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
Part IV : Execution of the convention # Section I : General provisions
The High Contracting Parties undertake to enact any legislation necessary to provide effective penal sanctions for persons committing, or ordering to be committed, any of the grave breaches of the present Convention defined in the following Article. Each High Contracting Party shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts. It may also, if it prefers, and in accordance with the provisions of its own legislation, hand such persons over for trial to another High Contracting Party concerned, provided such High Contracting Party has made out a ‘ prima facie ‘ case.
Each High Contracting Party shall take measures necessary for the suppression of all acts contrary to the provisions of the present Convention other than the grave breaches defined in the following Article. In all circumstances, the accused persons shall benefit by safeguards of proper trial and defence, which shall not be less favourable than those
provided by Article 105 and those following of the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of August 12, 1949.
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