> Iraq: Protect Government Archives from Looting
> (New York, April 10, 2003) -- U.S. and allied forces should prevent
> Iraqi government offices from being ransacked because government
> documents will undoubtedly be key evidence in future war crimes trials,
> Human Rights Watch urged in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Colin L.
> Powell and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld today.
> Families who have been expelled from their homes, particularly from the
> areas around Kirkuk in northern Iraq, will also need to rely on
> government records to establish their property claims, ethnic identities
> and place of origin.
> Failing to protect Iraqi security archives could contribute to
> retaliatory violence and vengeance killings, since the archives could
> identify tens of thousands of security agents and collaborators by name,
> Human Rights Watch said.
> Looting has been reported in many Iraqi cities as the government
> collapses, and U.S. and coalition forces have done little to stop it. In
> Basra, British officials have publicly stated that they allowed the
> looting of Ba'ath party buildings, which house important archives, as a
> means of showing the population that the party had lost control of the
> city.
> "These government documents are critical evidence of twenty-five years
> of atrocities," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights
> Watch. "Countless families in Iraq will need access to these archives to
> establish what happened to their missing relatives."
> Human Rights Watch estimates that some 250,000 to 290,000 Iraqis have
> "disappeared" during the rule of the Ba'ath Party-taken away from their
> homes by the Iraqi security forces, and never heard from again. The
> archives of the Iraqi security services could finally allow the families
> of those "disappeared" to find out what has happened to their long-lost
> relatives.
> Following the 1991 uprisings, Kurdish officials secured an estimated 18
> tons of Iraqi state documents, which were transferred to the United
> States and analyzed by Human Rights Watch.  These captured documents
> clearly established Iraqi government responsibility for the genocidal
> Anfal campaign against the Kurds, and helped Human Rights Watch identify
> the responsible Iraqi officials. The documents also provided important
> evidence of other repressive actions by the Iraqi government, including
> its campaign against the southern Marsh Arab population.
> Future insecurity could be prevented if documents are preserved.  For
> many displaced Iraqis, official government records are all they have to
> establish their identities, place of birth, ethnicity, or ownership of
> property.  Human Rights Watch has reported on the confiscation of
> nationality correction forms, expulsion orders, and ration cards before
> Iraqis were forcibly displaced from their homes
> http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/iraq0303/, making the copies available
> in official government repositories even more important. Current
> occupants of property abandoned by displaced people have an interest in
> seeing these documents destroyed.  More generally, if these records are
> not preserved, displaced people will not be able to make property
> claims, or even to establish their identities or those of their
> children.
> In the former Yugoslavia, many property documents were willfully
> destroyed in the process of "ethnic cleansing," and displaced people
> have had great difficulty in returning to their former homes as a
> result.
> To read the Human Rights Watch letter, please see:
> http://www.hrw.org/press/2003/04/iraq040903ltr.pdf