- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

God bless Colin Powell for his forthright and courageous statement to the United Nations. The intelligence he presented was chilling and straightforward. He made the case. However, the most impressive part of his statement was saved for last. He dared to speak in a loud and firm voice what the world community has tried to tune out for many years. He raised, if ever so briefly, the human rights issues that the UN has cruelly ignored through time.
As one who has repeatedly raised these issues at the UN and its member missions, I have been appalled and ashamed of my fellow human beings who explain away the atrocities of Saddam's Regime. As one who has been on the ground in Iraq, who has held hands with the relatives of the disappeared, the tortured and the displaced, I have had little hope that their voices would ever be heard - until now.
The hegemony of governments and international bureaucracy that has been so skillfully manipulated and literally bought by Saddam's minions has left room for even a discussion of the situation on the ground today. It is easier to talk about sanctions and geopolitics than the real lives affected by the world community's deafness and inaction.
Let me mention just two of those many lives. Last July while visiting the town of Halabja, a town continuing to spiral downward because of Saddam's chemical attacks, I visited a hospital where the effects of weapons of mass destruction are evident even many years after the event. A newborn, the light of God in her beautiful eyes, so grotesquely deformed that she lived only a few hours, cried out in her helplessness. Her pitiful existence personifies the horror that may be our future and is the everyday existence for many Iraqis. Premature menopause, extreme birth defects, genetic mutation, and many other debilitating health impacts continue to escalate. The people have never been helped. The land itself continues to devolve. It is unspeakable horror. And we have continued to ignore their voices calling us to our moral duty as human beings.
In a small refugee camp not far from Suleimaniya, a middle aged man held his mud caked hands up to the sky, tears streaming from his red eyes. His voice called to a higher power for help. He was building a shelter out of the only thing available to him, the earth. His wife and five daughters had walked for three days away from their home in Kirkuk, more victims of Saddam's ethnic cleansing. He hoped to provide some privacy for the female members of his family. Yet, the family was happy even though frightened for their future. Their only son would be returned to them. He had been held in prison to ensure that his family would leave the only home they had ever known so that Saddam could call their oil rich land his own. The quiet dignity of this man who wanted only to protect his family speaks for the thousands who have been denied even the most basic of human rights and whose voices have gone unheard while the world community has come to the rescue of so many others.
In the last few weeks we have received word that Saddam is displacing even more people, whole villages, as he creates a no mans zone close to Arbil. His tanks are being dug in and he is distributing gas masks to his troops. The Iraqis who have suffered so much at Saddam's hands grow even more fearful. Those who have already felt the effects of chemical weapons fear the worst. These are real people whose voices have not been listened to in the halls of the United Nations. These are people who bleed, and cry and pray for help and have no place to turn, who live in despair. Today, as a result of the truth Colin Powell spoke yesterday, the people of Iraq have hope in their hearts.

Kathryn Cameron Porter is the president of the Human Rights Alliance.

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