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As UN and Red Cross staff withdraw from Iraq the Howard Government walks away from its responsibilities as an occupying power.

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Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Further information: Kevin Rudd, MP 0418 796 931 or Alister Jordan 0417 605 823


Reports today of the withdrawal of further UN and Red Cross staff in Iraq are profoundly distributing.

These decisions follow massive bomb blasts in Iraq in recent days which have targeted the Red Cross headquarters among others.

The tragedy for the Iraqi people is they rely on these agencies for the delivery of a large amount of the humanitarian assistance which currently helps them through day-to-day life.

In an address to the United Nations Association of Victoria last night, I warned that as the international relief effort in Iraq has come under increasing strain, the Howard Government, step by step, has tried to sneak away from its obligations

to the Iraqi people as Occupying Power. This affected our responsibilities as an Occupying Power to provide for physical security and daily sustenance of the 24.5 million Iraqi civilian population.

Australia’s status as an Occupying Power in Iraq is crystal clear under the IV Hague Convention concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land (1907) and the 4th Geneva Convention (1949). Australia has signed both of these international instruments. And both have come into force within Australia - the Hague Convention in 1910, the Geneva Convention in 1959.

Under the terms of these Conventions, the US, the UK and Australia are Occupying Powers in Iraq.

Prime Minister Howard on 17 April and Downer on 23 May confirmed this formally when they stated that Australia exercises the responsibilities of an Occupying Power in relation to Iraq.

But since then, the Howard Government has tried to tip toe away from its responsibilities as the domestic security situation in Iraq has gone from bad to worse and the cost of economic reconstruction and humanitarian assistance has sky rocketed.

The Howard Government’s backsliding on Australia’s status as an Occupying Power began with Downer’s reply to a question on notice on 26 June 2003 when he said Australia was not an Occupying Power.

This was taken to a whole new level in the Senate this week when Defence Minister Hill said that Australia’s status as Occupying Power was “open for debate” thereby fundamentally repudiating the statements of the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister back in April and May.

But on top of this formal reneging of Australia’s status as an Occupying Power has been Australia’s “missing in action ”performance at the recently concluded Madrid Conference on the economic reconstruction of Iraq.

The Madrid Conference heard a combined Iraq Needs Assessment provided by the UN, the World Bank and the IMF. This Needs Assessment stated that:

“Iraq, across 12 sectors of the economy, social infrastructure and basic administration required US$36billion in direct financial assistance.”

In response pledges of US$13 billion were received. Japan, a non Occupying Power in Iraq pledged US$5 billion in grants and loans.

Australia, an Occupying Power, pledged an additional US$12 million.

There is a pattern to the Howard Government’s behaviour on Iraq. It is not an academic exercise of whether or not Australia is an Occupying Power in Iraq. It is a very practical matter and goes to the heart of the seriousness of the Howard Government’s commitment to constructing the peace in Iraq.

The Howard Government’s performance on this is increasingly dishonourable - and brings discredit to our country’s international standing.

John Howard always turns up for the military parades for the war. But John Howard is missing in action when it gets to the hard bit of reconstructing the peace.

Ends. 31 October 2003

Further information: Kevin Rudd, MP 0418 796 931 or Alister Jordan 0417 605 823