Civilians caught in the middle of US-Iranian escalation

Image: Over the past weeks the tensions between the US and Iran escalated with the assassination of general Qasem Suleimani. Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

January 17, 2020

Over the past weeks the tensions between the US and Iran escalated with the assassination of general Qasem Suleimani, head of the Iranian al-Quds force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes, deputy commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Iran retaliated with missile attacks on US military targets. The tragic downing of the Ukrainian plane showed how civilians are at risk and disregarded in this escalation.

For months now, people in Iraq and Iran have taken to the streets calling for dignity, human rights and an end to violence, oppression and corruption. The weekend following the airstrikes there were massive protests all over Iraq as well as in Iran. The demonstrators took a clear stand against the actions of the US and Iran, and want to take control of their countries and futures. The voice of civilians is clear- dignity and an end to the oppressive destruction of their bodies, homes and homelands in an endless conflict which they are bearing the brunt for decades. PAX stands in solidarity with the people in the Middle East standing up for their rights and human dignity and condemns the violent repression of protests.

State security cannot trump human security and states can only be stable if they serve their people. PAX calls on all actors to show restraint, to ensure the principles of distinction, proportion, international human rights, sovereignty and necessity are adhered to, and to find ways to restore justice, dignity and peace to an embittered region. Civilians should not pay the price of this escalation. Further retaliation by the Iranian and US governments or by the Iraqi PMF will put civilians further at risk. There is a risk that the peaceful protest movement will be violently repressed or co-opted. Resulting chaos and power struggles could lead to a resurgence of ISIS.

PAX will continue its efforts to support civil society actors in Iraq to build peace and defend human rights, as well as to document and advocate the human security interests of Iraqi civilians. We will also continue our advocacy efforts to restore the nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA) as well as our ongoing research and advocacy into the use of un-crewed armed vehicles.

We call on the Dutch government to:

  • not contribute to further escalation by sending a frigate to the Straight of Hormuz;
  • express support for the peaceful calls for rights and dignity by the Iraqi and Iranian people, as well as other people in the region;
  • publicly condemn the human rights violations committed as part of the repression of protests and to call for investigations and accountability;
  • call for a halt to any use of un-crewed armed vehicles to carry out extrajudicial killings to prevent the further erosion of international norms around such extrajudicial executions;
  • use its special relationship with the US to call for restraint and a return to the nuclear deal JCPOA.

We call on the European Union to:

  • take on an active diplomatic role to de-escalate the situation and to facilitate a process to develop long-term peace and security agreements in the region;
  • move cautiously and without escalating conflict in encouraging all parties to return to compliance with the nuclear deal JCPOA, while voicing commitment to a diplomatic solution and commitment to the JCPOA.

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