Human Rights a Priority in Iraq; Official Tries to Allay Fears on Security Law, Hits U.N

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BAGHDAD - The implementation of martial law in Iraq will be carried out in accordance with international civil standards, said the nation's new minister of human rights, who criticized the United Nations for failing to return to Iraq.

Bakhityar Amin, the first human rights minister in Iraq's history, said international concern over the proposed imposition of a new national security law is misplaced.

"I was assured by the prime minister and even the president that they are committed to conducting this in accordance with international law and principles of human rights," he said as the government put the final touches on the new law earlier this week.

He said Prime Minister Iyad Allawi "was insistent that I take part, that it is done properly. My office will have the full ability to investigate lapses."

Iraq, he said, "is no longer a military state. But the right to life is the first right of all."

Mr. Amin, a Kurdish exile who lived in Europe for nearly 20 years, has his hands full trying to create an awareness of and regard for human rights in a country with little history of it.

Nevertheless, he said, he is encouraged that more than 2,000 Iraqi nongovernmental organizations have formed in the past year.

He criticized the United Nations for trying to help Iraq build a new civil rights culture "by remote control.""We wish they were here, they are welcome here," Mr. Amin said. "It is the mandate of the U.N. to provide peace and security and human rights, and you cannot do that from Amman [Jordan] or Cyprus."

Noting that the international organization is present in other war-torn countries, he said, "I don't know how they can allow themselves not to be here."

The United Nations left Iraq shortly after its headquarters was bombed a year ago and has been trying since then to run skeletal programs for Iraq from neighboring countries. U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said this week that the organization would not return until security is "resolved."

That doesn't do much to help Mr. Amin, a charismatic advocate who sees his job as overcoming three decades of Ba'athist repression and fear to create a country where people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds are treated fairly and equally.

The caretaker government this week signed a package of security laws that allow it to impose martial law on restive areas, providing its forces with wide powers to arrest, restrict movements of and intercept communications between suspected insurgents.

It fell to Mr. Amin and Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan to announce the law, in part to pre-empt criticism that Iraq was restoring a police state.

The new government in October will also begin a census - a potentially unsettling enterprise that will identify the size and potential power of various ethnic groups just three months before elections.

It is a tense time for the Kurds of northern Iraq, who are determined not to surrender the large measure of autonomy they have had since 1991 under the protection of a U. …