by News Interactive / Australia –
WASHINGTON (November 22, 2003) Agence France-Press — Amnesty International said today US forces appeared to be destroying houses in Iraq as a form of collective punishment for attacks on US troops and warned that that would violate the Geneva Convention. A Pentagon spokesman emphatically denied it.
The human rights group said it had sent a letter to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld demanding clarification whether the demolitions as a form of collective punishment or deterrence was officially permitted. “If such proved to be the case, it would constitute a clear violation of international humanitarian law,” the group said in the letter.
A Pentagon spokesman acknowledged that US forces had destroyed “facilities,” including houses, in the course of recent military operations but emphatically denied they were intended as a form of collective punishment or retaliation for attacks.
“We have destroyed facilities that were being used by former regime loyalists or terrorists either as a place from which to stage attacks, or as a safe house to avoid capture, or as a facility from which to construct improvised explosive devices,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jim Cassella.
“The idea that this is some type of collective punishment is just absolutely without merit,” he said. “In some cases there have been incidents where these thugs have been using homes to do this, and in all cases where that happened the people who lived there were evacuated and then afterwards were relocated,” he said.
“But what we are doing here is attacking the terrorist infrastructure to deny them the ability to plan, organize and initiate attacks,” he said.
Amnesty International said it had learned that 15 houses were destroyed in the Tikrit area since November 16 in military operations. It said in one case a family in the village of al-Haweda was reportedly given five minutes to evacuate their house before it was razed by tank and helicopter fire.
The organization said it received reports of a November 10 incident in which soldiers gave people living in a farmhouse near the town of al-Mamudiya south of Baghdad 30 minutes to leave. The farmhouse was bombed and destroyed later in the day by F-16 fighters, it said. It said the bombing appeared to have been carried out in retaliation for an attack several days earlier on a convoy in which a US officer was killed.
Six people were arrested at the farmhouse a day after the convoy attack when weapons were found in a truck outside. More weapons and ammunition were said to have been found in a search of the house, Amnesty said.
“It seems that the destruction of the Najim family house was carried out as collective punishment and not for ‘absolute military necessity’,” Amnesty said. The organization noted that Article 33 of the fourth Geneva Convention states: “Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.”
Article 53 states: “Any destruction by the occupying power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organisations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”
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