GENEVA - UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called today on the U.S.-led coalition to respect international law as the "occupying power" in Iraq, drawing immediate ire from U.S. officials.
"I hope the coalition will set an example by making clear that they intend to act strictly within the rules" governing occupations, Annan told the UN Human Rights Commission.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan addresses the annual session of the U.N. commission on Human Rights April 24, 2003 at the U.N. headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Annan urged U.S.-led forces in Iraq to live up to their responsibility for civilians and public order under the Geneva Conventions, drawing an angry response from the United States. Photo by Jean-Marc Ferre/Reuters
The United States responded that it had not been established whether the coalition that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime was an occupying power under international law but that coalition forces were nevertheless abiding by international conventions.
"We've not only made that clear by our words - we've made it clear from day one of this conflict through our actions," U.S. envoy Kevin Moley told reporters. "We find it - at best - odd that the secretary general chose to bring this to our attention."
Annan cited the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1907 Hague Convention, accords that set down the responsibilities of occupiers — ranging from maintaining public order to collecting taxes.
"We're simply saying that the issue of an occupying power has not yet been dealt with," Moley said.
"We'll come to that and we'll presumably come to that quickly," he said, adding that in the meantime, the coalition was conforming with international accords.
Last week, Brig.-Gen. Vincent Brooks, deputy operations director at U.S. Central Command, said the United States did not currently consider itself an occupying power in Iraq.
Rather, he described the coalition as a "liberating force" — a category that does not exist in the Geneva or Hague conventions.
"While there may be a number of similarities to what the Geneva Convention describes, that's not a category that we have stated publicly at this point," Brooks said. "Whether that changes over time needs to be seen."
Moley also said he was angered that Annan cited "the decision to go to war without specific authorization by the UN Security Council."
"This is an egregious misstatement of the facts of our going to war in Iraq," the U.S. envoy said.
Annan refused to comment as he left the human rights commission. The United Nations said he was returning to New York.
The international community was deeply divided over the legality of the U.S.-led attack.
The United States and Britain said they could legally go to war against Iraq under UN resolutions dating from 1991 ordering Saddam to disarm. They also noted that Resolution 1441, adopted in November, required Iraq to co-operate with UN arms inspectors or face "serious consequences."
Washington also said Saddam's presumed weapons arsenal amounted to an imminent threat and therefore justified pre-emptive strikes. Despite the invasion, no such weapons have yet been found.
Other Security Council members — chiefly France, Germany and Russia — disagreed. They said inspections of Iraq's arsenal were working, meaning the country could be peacefully disarmed.
Annan said the coalition decision to act "created deep divisions that will need to be bridged if we are to deal effectively, not just with the aftermath in Iraq, but with other major challenges on the international agenda."
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press