Excerpts from International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) press release, May 11, 1983:

Geneva — Since the outbreak of the conflict between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Iraq the highest authorities of both those states have several times confirmed their intention to honor their international obligations deriving from the Geneva conventions. Despite these assurances and its repeated representations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has had a delegation in both countries since the start of hostilities, more than thirty months ago, has encountered all kinds of obstacles in the exercise of its mandate under the Geneva conventions.

Faced with grave and repeated violations of international humanitarian law which it has itself witnessed or of which it has established the existence through reliable and verifiable sources, and having found it impossible to induce the parties to put a stop to such violations, the ICRC felt in duty bound to appeal on May 9 to all states parties to the Geneva conventions. The ICRC stressed that pursuant to its policy, it undertakes such an overt step only in very exceptional circumstances, when dictated by the urgent need to protect the victims and when its confidential representations have failed to put an end to the violations.

In a memorandum to the two belligerents and to all other signatories to the conventions the ICRC outlined the conditions in which the POWs in each country are held. It also pointed to grave violations committed by both countries, such as the summary execution of captive soldiers, abandoning of enemy wounded on the battlefield and indiscriminate bombardment of towns and villages.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran the breaches are all the more serious, considering the large number of prisoners, and to most of them the ICRC no longer has access. According to the Iranian authorities they are holding between 45,000 and 50,000 Iraqi prisoners of war. Although the Third Geneva Conventions confers on those prisoners a legal status entitling them to specific rights, the Iranian authorities’ continuous delaying tactics since May 1982, the obstacles and restrictions they have raised and their refusal to allow the ICRC to visit some POW camps have prevented the ICRC from carrying out its work for the prisoners whom the Iranian authorities admit they are holding.

Moreover, the ICRC memorandum states, the Iraqi prisoners of war are subjected to ideological and political pressure, contrary to the convention, constituting an affront to the prisoners’ dignity and disregard of their wellbeing. Such pressure — intimidation, humiliation, forced participation in demonstrations decrying the Iraqi government — has been increasing since September 1982.

The ICRC also reports that events in some camps have led to death and injury of prisoners.

In addition, most of the severely wounded and sick prisoners have not been repatriated as required by the convention. In the Republic of Iraq the ICRC had registered by March 1, 1983 some 6,800 Iranian prisoners of war who, after initial difficulties, have been able for the last few months to correspond with their families in a satisfactory manner. Every month since October 1980 ICRC delegates have visited the prisoners of war, in a manner consistent with the procedure laid down in the Geneva Convention. However, the ICRC is convinced that some Iranian prisoners — several hundred of whose names are known to it — have been concealed from it since the beginning of the conflict and are imprisoned in places to which it has never had access. Only a few dozen such prisoners have been returned to the prisoner of war camps and registered by the ICRC. Ill treatment of POWs has been witnessed and disorders in camps have been quelled by force of arms. Most of the severely wounded and sick have not been repatriated as required by the convention.

Furthermore, tens of thousands of Iranian civilians have been deported to Iraq by the army, in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

How to cite this article:

"Treatment of Prisoners of War in the Iran-Iraq Conflict," Middle East Report 125/126 (July-September 1984).
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