After the end of hostilities for the Liberation of Kuwait, on February 28th 1991, the ICRC and other humanitarian agencies were allowed into Kuwait to carry out their tasks. Following UN Security Council Resolution 686 of the 2nd of March 1991, a special committee was created under ICRC auspices to co-ordinate swift repatriation of POWs in both directions. Firstly known as the ‘Riyadh Committee’, it was later referred to as the 'Tripartite Commission' because members of the commission consisted of the allied Coalition (France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait) on one side and Iraq on the other, under ICRC auspices and chairmanship as a third party.
Following the Riyadh meetings of March 1991, a number of POWs were handed over to the ICRC by both sides. Others were freed by insurrectionists in Southern Iraq during the turmoil that followed the Liberation of Kuwait. Some 6,000 Kuwaiti POWs found their way home through these channels.
When it became evident that many persons had not yet returned, as reported by their families, a specific “Plan of Action” was adopted for the repatriation of mortal remains along with tracing of POWs and civilian detainees unaccounted for (12 April 1991).
While Kuwaiti authorities concentrated their efforts on drawing up reliable and documented individual files in compliance with that Plan, the previous Iraqi regime hampered the work of the Tripartite Commission by boycotting meetings for more than two years (from the end of 1991 to mid 1994).
When the past Iraqi regime resumed participation in the meetings of the Tripartite Commission in July 1994, Kuwaiti authorities had already submitted more than 600 individual files (including 14 Saudi, 5 Egyptian, 4 Iranian, 4 Syrian, 3 Lebanese, one Oman, one Bahraini and one Indian citizen) since 1992, well documented with a multitude of eye-witness testimonies and official arrest records. Saudi Arabia had submitted 17 files. No concrete answer had been received from the previous Iraqi regime until that moment.
The Tripartite Commission then concentrated on the creation of a Technical Sub-Committee in charge of accelerating the search process by meeting at least once a month in the Gulf area. This sub-committee was founded in December 1994 and held 41 meetings with participation of the former Iraqi regime, mostly on the border between Kuwait and Iraq. Adding 22 sessions held by the Tripartite Commissions with participation of the former Iraqi regime, it becomes evident that the Coalition had been meeting 63 times with that regime on this POW subject, under the auspices of the ICRC.
Unfortunately all those meetings had failed to produce expected results. Up to the fall of the Iraqi regime, 605 Kuwaiti and third country nationals were still unreleased or unaccounted for by it. During the four long years that preceded its overthrow, the former Iraqi regime bad been boycotting again the work of both Tripartite Commission and Technical Sub-Committee, regardless of the fact that “nobody can justify lack of cooperation in respect of efforts to trace the fate of persons unaccounted for” (United Nations Special Reporter, 13 September 2001, document A/56/340. point 38).
With regards to lack of progress in the search process, the ICRC had expressed several alarms concerning unsatisfactory functioning of the Technical Sub-Committee. The Kuwaiti authorities had always been of the opinion that the previous Iraqi regime was to be held wholly responsible for that. Today facts are validating the Kuwaiti stand once and for all.
Up to December 1998, Iraq had failed to produce any satisfactory result in accordance with the original goals of the Sub-Committee, as it boycotted the meetings of both the Tripartite Committee and its Technical Subcommittee.
As to accelerating the search process, the past Iraqi regime had supplied incomplete replies to 112 individual files between August 1994 and July 1995. However, since the venue of the Sub-Committee was moved to the border, only 14 such replies were received, the last of which was over eight years ago. The total number of the files reached 126.
Moreover, the previous Iraqi government had failed to provide additional information on those 126 files, regardless of the repeated requests from Kuwait. In fact, the information provided was too unclear to allow the Sub-Committee to determine the fate of any prisoner. Yet, the past Iraqi regime had admitted having seized and deported those prisoners during the occupation.
Lack of response to repeated requests for information on the other 479 unresolved files was another example of non-cooperation from the previous Iraqi government side.
The Iraqi investigation techniques proved fruitless all the way. These "search efforts" consisted mainly of a so-called recollection method based on the memory of anonymous witnesses. Iraq had been consistently rejecting or hindering the Sub-committee's requests to meet Iraqi witnesses, or to contact them though the ICRC.
Likewise, Iraq had been deploying every possible means to keep shunning its obligations on this POW issue, spreading all sort of false claims and allegations. However, the direct responsibility of Iraqi forces was already obvious in all cases denounced by Kuwait. Recent progresses achieved in the exhumation and identification of mortal remains provide ineluctable evidence that the previous Iraqi regime had been hiding the truth all the time.
The obligations of the past Iraqi regime to release or account for POWs were stemming from several sources: International Humanitarian Law (four Geneva conventions), UN Resolutions, commitments taken in the frame of the Tripartite Commission and Technical Sub-Committee, Human Rights Treaties arid Declarations.
Enforced disappearances are considered to be one of the worst violations of fundamental Human Rights and a crime against humanity, as stated in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Iraqi records in this domain were dreadful: “the arrogance of the Iraqi authorities in the way they deal with disappearances is particularly shocking” (Getting away with murder, Amnesty International New York, 1993, page 14).
The Kuwaiti authorities have always been determined in supporting the work of Tripartite Commission and Technical Sub-Committee, with a desire to help them achieve their specified goals. Kuwaiti authorities have continued to use all available means in fostering a spirit of cooperation and trust among the Parties.
Nevertheless, Kuwaiti authorities had been all that time recommending that the International Community and in particular the UN Security Council intensify pressure on the previous Iraqi government until much more tangible results would be achieved in this humanitarian issue. Kuwait pursued sincere efforts to bring speedy relief to hundreds of families of POWs and other detainees still unaccounted for. This misery has already endured thirteen long years.
The Kuwaiti authorities had been reiterating the following requests:
After the liberation of Iraq from the past Iraqi regime Kuwait pursued its efforts with the Coalition that Iraqi administration look for any Kuwaitis or third country nationals alive in prisons. Unfortunately, till now none has been found. However, many mass graves have been discovered in Iraq.
The Iraqi delegation participating in the Tripartite Commission informed the Kuwaiti authorities and the Tripartite Commission that Kuwaiti prisoners of war and third country nationals were executed. The Iraqis themselves guided us to the mass-graves where prisoners of war were found buried after having been executed in cold blood.
Mortal remains were taken from mass-graves and up to now 227 Kuwaitis and third country nationals (four Saudis, two Lebanese, two Iranians and one Egyptian) have been identified by DNA-tests.
The Kuwaiti authorities will continue their efforts to find and identify the remaining prisoners of war, Kuwaiti and third country nationals.
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