Prisoners of War in Iran and Iraq - 'When Will the War Finally End?'

Article excerpt

In neither Iran nor Iraq were the prisoners-of-war (POWs) taken in the conflict between the two countries "treated as badly as alleged by the Government of the other country", nor were they treated as well as claimed by the Government of the detaining Powers, says a report (S/16962) of a three-member United Nations mission that inquired into the situation of POWs, and civilian detainees in the Iran-Iraq conflict.

The 66-page report, issued on 22 February, said the existing situation on both sides was "cause for serious concern", and expressed the hope that the two Governments would give serious consideration to releasing, unilaterally or on a reciprocal basis, as many of the POWs, under their jurisdication as possible.

Mission members said "the sight of so many thousands of men in POW camps, mostly in the prime of their life, wasting their best years away in confinement, deprived of virtually all the amenities of life, uncertain of their fate, could not but stir deep emotions in every one of us". The "most vivid imaes" that they had carried back from the POW camps were "fear, loneliness, uncertainty, isolation, bitterness and despair". From the camps in both countries, they had brought back a message from the POWs, which they felt "duty-bound to convey". Countless POWs had expressed their message in "impressive and moving ways, from eloquent and convincing pleas to silent sadness, from emotional outbursts to tears". The questions most frequently asked were: 'When will the war finally end?'; 'How much longer will we have to endure this suffering?'; 'What will happen to us when the mission leaves?'; 'Why does society tolerate such cruelty towards us?'. Often it was just one word: 'Repatriation!'. The "overriding yearning" of POWs was that the "prolonged and tragic" war should be brought to the earliest possible end.

The mission visited Iraq from 11 to 17 January and Iran from 18 to 25 January. The Iraqi Government had requested on 25 October the dispatch of a mission to inquire into the killing or injuring on 10 October of a number of Iraqi POWs at the camp for them at Gorgan, Iran. Iran agreed to co-operate with the mission, provided it also visited Iraq to inquire into certain concerns of the Iranian Government regarding Iranian POWs in Iraq. In Iraq, the mission visited all the eight POW camps and some civilian villages while in Iran it visited eight of the 16 POW camps, including Gorgan. Iraq reported to the mission that it held 9,206 Iranian POWs in eight camps, while Iran said there were 46,262 Iraqi POWs in 16 camps.

The members of the mission were Professor Wolfram Karl (Austria), Professor Torkel Opsahl (Norway) and Major-General Rafael Angel Vale Huerta (Venezuela). The conducting officials from the Secretariat were Mr. Benon Sevan and Mr. Francesc Vendrell.

The report expressed the hope that the two Governments would give serious consideration to releasing, unilaterally or on a reciprocal basis, as many of the prisoners of war under their jurisdiction as possible. Some could be released unconditionally, while others could be released conditionally, subject to international guarantees and control that they would not return to the theatre of war. PRisoners who were seriously or chronically ill, wounded or disabled, as well as civilians "mistakenly made POWs" should be immediately repatriated. Minors and aged prisoners should be treated as a matter of priority.

Gorgan incident

Concerning the incident in Gorgan, the report said it had caused the deaths of at least nine prisoners, of whom three had died from beatings and the rest from gunshot wounds. Forty-seven prisoners had been wounded and hospitalized, and a larger number had been less severely injured. They had not been treated in hospital. (For Iraqi and Iranian communications to the Secretary-General on the Gorgan incident, see UN Chronicle, No. 1, 1985.)

The report said the trouble had begun with a quarrel between two prisoners belonging to the two opposing factions in the camp--"loyalists" and "believers". …