22 August 2004

Geneva Convention violations go unnoticed
They were voluntary human shields, the youngest perhaps 8 years old, the oldest 70.
Would this engineer be alive tomorrow? Or that 8-year-old girl holding her father's hand? Or that 60-year-old woman walking aross the marble floor?

Naseer Junaid, holed up in the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf ...,48, is one of the several hundred supporters of Moqtada Sadr who flocked to Najaf in the last two weeks since fighting flared between the radical Shiite Muslim cleric's militiamen and US-led Iraqi government forces.

Calling themselves "human shields," they are willing to lay down their lives to protect the shrine if the US Army dared approach.

"I am a human shield like all these others," said Junaid, dressed in a traditional dishdasha, pointing at a group sitting in a shady corner of the shrine compound.

"We all came here just for one goal and that is to protect Imam Ali and if necessary our leader Moqtada Sadr. We promised ourselves we would sacrifice our lives if it comes to that."

The shields -- the elderly, young men and children -- intend to form a large chain around the shrine if the forces tried to enter the holy site.

"We will take their bullets, but not allow any enemy near the shrine," he said, not far from a toddler holding a poster of Sadr.

Here's what the Geneva Conventions say about children:
Parties to a conflict must respect children, provide them with any care or aid they require, and protect them from any form of indecent assault (Protocol I, Art. 77, Sec. 1).

Children under 15 must not participate in hostilities and must not be recruited into the armed forces. (Protocol I, Art. 77, Sec. 2; Protocol II, Art. 4, Sec. 3C)

Those children who do participate in hostilities do not lose their protections under the Geneva Conventions, including the right to an education. (Protocol II, Art. 4, Sec. 3d)

Children who have committed an offense related to the armed conflict before their 18th birthday cannot be subject to the death penalty. (Protocol I, Art. 77, Sec. 5)

If arrested, detained or interned, children must be held in separate quarters from adults, unless they are with their families. (Protocol I, Art. 77, Sec. 4)

Warring parties must try to make local agreements to allow the removal of children from besieged or encircled areas. (Convention IV, Art. 17)

Warring parties must allow the free passage of medicine, food and clothing intended for children under 15. (Convention IV, Art. 23)

Warring parties must ensure that orphans or lost children are not left alone, and that they are taken care of and allowed to practice their religion and pursue their education in their cultural tradition if possible. (Convention IV, Art. 24)

Mothers with dependent infants should not be, if at all possible, sentenced to the death penalty for an offense related to the armed conflict, and such sentences must not be carried out. (Protocol I, Art. 76, Sec. 3)

So, are the combatants who control the Imam Ali shrine responsible for getting the children inside out of the combat zone? Are they even party to the Geneva Conventions?
Curious consumers of journalism want to know.
The Agence France Presse article did not have a byline, which makes finding the reporter who filed the story difficult. However since the followup question is so important, I at least contacted AFP via their web form.
In the story "Human shields in Imam Ali shrine crave loved ones", which does not have a byline, mention is made twice of children being among the human shields.
I expect the journalist would at some point have asked the fighters in Najaf if they were concerned about violating the Geneva Conventions in allowing children to remain in a combat zone.
Unfortunately I was unable to determine who filed the story.
I would appreciate if you could point me towards this information. Thank you in advance.

I've sent that email and one other to a reporter for another outfit. If any answers come in, I'll share them here.