Operation Northern Watch – civilian deaths in northern Iraq in 1999 – Quist’s representations to the Chilcot Inquiry

Human Rights / Public International Law

The Iraq Inquiry, headed by Sir John Chilcot was officially launched on 30 July 2009. At the time the Chairman of the Inquiry, Sir John Chilcot stated:

“This is an Inquiry by a committee of Privy Councellors. It will consider the period from the summer of 2001 to end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath. We will therefore be considering the UK’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure, that if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country”.

Whilst the launch of the Inquiry was widely welcomed in principle, there remained serious concerns with the Terms of Reference. Acting for a family of shepherds living in the Bashiqa region of Northern Iraq, (the Jarjees family), Quist submitted concerns to the Iraq Inquiry on their behalf by drawing attention to the importance of having regard to key events which preceded the summer of 2001 “but which are nevertheless an inextricable part of the ‘run up’ to the conflict in that they constitute steps leading to the conflict in Iraq and/or the war itself”.

During February 2003 Akhtar Raja led a two-week visit to Iraq. Quist’s mission was to gather evidence and in particular statements from witnesses concerning a well documented attack on a civilian target on 30 April 1999 – killing four children and two adults all of whom were the Jarjees family. They were one of the many targets regularly used for “shooting practice” by US military aircraft, stationed in Turkey, whilst patrolling the Northern no-fly zone (over Iraq). During April 1999 an agreement was signed by the United States, the United Kingdom and France, the object of which was to form the Northern no-fly zone. It was established as part of ‘Operation Provide Comfort’ which claimed to provide humanitarian assistance to the Kurds and guard them form Saddam Hussein’s armed forces. (The operation was subsequently renamed ‘Operation Northern Watch’.) US and British war planes enforced, both the Northern and Southern No Fly Zones. Quist sought to challenge the legal basis of the UK, US and French governments’ actions. The reality, Quist argued was something quite different what was officially asserted. Far from offering any sort of protection or humanitarian relief, or fulfilling any other legitimate purpose the no fly zones constituted an illegal unilateral operation created by a self declared US/UK coalition. The no fly zones were not operated pursuant to any Security Council mandate, nor were they derived from a legitimate authority sourced elsewhere in international law. Quist gathered evidence in relation to the incident on 30 April 1999 involving the Jarjees family which included statements from the father of the one of the children, the mother of the three remaining children and her husband (who also died in the attack).

The statements of Idrees Jarjees, Eida Thanoon and others which were all submitted to the inquiry. On 24 September 2010 Quist made representations to the Iraq Inquiry setting out details of the 30 April 1999 killing.

In doing so, Quist relied on a statement obtained from Count Hans-Christof von Sponeck (also see the link to his NewStatesmen article below), formerly the UN Security Coordinator in Iraq (at the level of an Assistant Secretary General) with 32 years of service with the United Nations. The 30 April 1999 attack was also documented in a report prepared by his security staff in Baghdad entitled ‘Air Strikes in Iraq & Reported Civilian Casualties and Damages 28 December 1988 – 31 December 1999’.

On 25 October 2010 the Iraq Inquiry responded to Quist’s letter stating that it was not able to investigate individual cases and further that “it has no power to order compensation. Addressing the circumstances of the tragic deaths of …[Quist’s] client’s relatives on 30 April 1999 [which] lies outside the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference”.

The response from Inquiry confirmed that the Committee’s attention was drawn to Quist’s letter and that “they have read the statement” from Count Hans-Christof von Sponeck. That [Quist’s evidence] “will supplement the formal evidence the Inquiry has received through public and private hearings, the contemporary documentation it has seen and the written evidence it has sought.”

Subsequently Sir John Chilcot expressed frustration with the inability to refer to key documents whilst questioning key witnesses. There has also been widespread criticism concerning the scope of the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference. The Committee’s work is ongoing at the time of this article.

Quist awaits the outcome of the Inquiry and in particular, recognition of both the fate of members of the Jarjees family and the material facts set out in the statement of Count Hans-Christof von Sponeck.

Quist’s involvement in making these representations underscores the diversity and depth of the team’s experience in the field of human rights and public law.

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