Situation of Prisoners of War in Iran, Iraq Investigated by Mission

Article excerpt

The three-member United Nations mission inquiring into the situation of prisoners of war (POWs) and civilian detainees in the Iran-Iraq conflict has visited the two countries to conduct its on-the-spot investigation and is preparing its report in Vienna for submission to Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar.

The mission visited Iraq from 11 to 17 January. Originally, it was scheduled to visit the two countries in November, but the visit did not take place because agreement could not be reached on the itinerary and modalities of its work.

The members of the mission were Professor Wolfram Karl (Austria), Professor Torkel Opsahl (Norway) and Major-General Rafael Vale-Huerta (Venezuela). The mission, which itself was to decide the scope and method of its work, was accompanied by Benon Sevan, a Director in the United Nations Secretariat, and Francesc Vendrell, Senior Political Officer, both temporarily assigned to the office of Diego Cordovez, Under-Secretary-General for Special Political Affairs.

The report of the mission will be made available to the two Governments and will be transmitted to the Security Council as well as to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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 Gorghan, Iran. Iran agreed to cooperate with the mission, provided it also visited Iraq to inquire into certain concerns of the Iranian Government regarding Iranian POWs in Iraq.

In a statement on 17 December, a spokesman for the Secretary-General said an understanding had been reached with the Iraqi and Iranian Governments on the dispatch of a mission on POWs in both the countries. The mission's task would be to "inquire into certain aspecs regarding the situation of prisoners of war and civilian detainees" in the two countries. In carrying out that task, it would "seek to determine, as far as feasible, the factual basis for the concerns" expressed by the two Governments. The mission would conduct "independent inquiries" in order to report to the Secretary-General, and would visit prisoner-of-war camps in Iran and Iraq designated by the respective Governments or by the mission itself.

The mission assembled on 8 January in Geneva, where it held separate meetings with the ICRC and with the representatives of the Iraqi and Iranian Governments.

During its stay in Iraq, mission members met with that country's Foreign Minister, Tareq Aziz, and visited five camps holding Iranian POWs. A spokesman for the Secretary-General said the mission had carried out its work in Iraq without difficulties. Iraqi authorities had been "extremely co-operative". Members of the mission had visited the camps unescorted, and had conducted private interviews with POWs, in conformity with the Geneva Convention on the question.

During its stay in Iran, mission members met with that country's Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, and visited most of the camps known to the ICRC, holding about 30,000 Iraqi POWs. A spokesman for the Secretary-General said on 23 January that Mr. Sevan had reported to Mr. Cordovez that the mission had continued its work in Iran "in a satisfactory way". According to Mr. Sevan, mission members felt that they had received "every co-operation from the Government and other authorities" in Iran. They had allowed mission members to visit the camps freely and to conduct interviews with POWs in private. Those modalities for visits to prisoner-of-war camps were consistent with the Geneva Convention.

The mission was expected to submit its report in February.

The Gorghan camp incident had been the subject of a letter of 25 October addressed to the Secretary-General (S/16799), in which Foreign Minister Tareq Aziz of Iraq stated that on 10 October, the Iranian military "indiscriminately opened fire" on Iraqi prisoners in the Gorghan camp, "killing or injuring a considerable number of them". …