8.2.3        The Applicability of International Law

 (The latest version of this page is at Pattern Descriptions.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition02/823.htm)

As described in the previous two sections, Saddam Hussein's regime had come to the attention of the UN for two quite separate reasons: it was a threat to international security and a threat to the human rights of its own population.  Under international law the appropriate responses to these two threats were quite different: the UN Security Council ( should have attended to the security threat, whilst the International Criminal Court (the ICC, see should have attended to the human rights issues.

To address the security threat the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) was conducting inspections for ‘weapons of mass-destruction’ (WMD) in Iraq, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1284.[1]  Iraq had expelled the weapons inspectors in 1997,[2] but they had been readmitted following the UN Security Council Resolution 1441 in August 2002, which stated that it held Iraq to be “in material breach of disarmament obligations” and offering it “a final opportunity to comply” by readmitting the inspectors and making a “a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects” of its WMD programmes.[3]  Several members of the UN Security Council felt that peaceful disarmament of Iraq was possible, following Iraq’s readmission of the inspectors.[4]  The UN was asked to take further action, but both France and Russia announced that they would veto any resolution which threatened an invasion.[5]

In response to Saddam Hussein's breaches of human rights it would have been possible to take legal action via the ICC against the head of the armed forces, for example, over the gassing of the Kurds.  Indicting Saddam would have looked as if the whole country were being criticized, but a successful prosecution of one of his ministers would have sent a warning message to the regime and might have deterred further wrongdoing. 

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[1] The UNMOVIC website was available in April 2014 at t http://www.unmovic.org/.  It included a link to Security Council resolution 1284 at http://www.un.org/Depts/unmovic/new/documents/resolutions/s-res-1284.pdf.

[2] A CNN report, entitled Iraq expels American Weapons Inspectors, was published on 13 November 1997.  The other inspectors were then also withdrawn.  The report was available in April 2014 at http://articles.cnn.com/1997-11-13/world/9711_13_iraq.expel_1_new-iraq-sanctions-american-inspectors-revolutionary-command-council?_s=PM:WORLD.

[3] The UN Security Council Resolution 1441 offered Iraq “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations”. The text of this resolution was available in April 2014 at http://www.un.org/Depts/unmovic/documents/1441.pdf.

[4] On 15 March 2003 The Guardian published a report entitled Chirac spells it out: no ultimatum, which quoted the German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder as saying:

"We must have the courage to fight for peace as long as there is a scrap of hope that a war can be avoided. Together with our French friends, with Russia and China and the majority of the security council, we are more than ever convinced that Iraq's disarmament can and must be achieved by peaceful means."

This article was available in April 2014 at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/mar/15/iraq.france.

[5] The BBC published a report which quoted French President Jacques Chirac as saying that “his country would vote against any resolution that contains an ultimatum leading to war”, and which referred to an earlier Russian statement along similar lines.  This report was available in April 2014 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2838269.stm.