- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 11, 2003

God bless Colin Powell for his forthright and courageous statement to the United Nations. The intelligence he presented was chilling and straightforward. 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 in Iraq that the world community continues to cruelly ignore.
As one who has repeatedly raised these issues at the U.N. and its member missions, including the United States, 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, so skillfully manipulated and literally bought up by Saddam's minions, has left little 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.
For many years, I held an annual, if sparsely attended, vigil in the Capitol to remember the lives lost in Saddam's first use of chemical weapons. Last July, while again in Iraq and Kurdistan, I visited Halabja, the center of that attack, for the first time. The town is a test tube of the consequences of inaction. In a hospital woefully ill-equipped to deal with the effects of weapons of mass destruction, a newborn girl cried in anguish. In her beautiful eyes you can see the light of life itself and of God. Yet, her tiny body was so grotesquely deformed that she lived only a few hours. Her pitiful existence personifies the horror that may be our own future. In her eyes, I could see the consequences of evil left alone to grow and mutate. Extreme birth defects, genetic mutation, premature menopause, suicide and many other debilitating health impacts continue to escalate. There has been no remediation.
Along with the people, the land itself continues to devolve. Even the snakes have become aggressive. It is unspeakable horror. And we continue to ignore the voices of the helpless calling us to our moral duty as human beings to at least help if not prevent a future occurrence.
In a refugee camp not far from Suleimaniya, a middle-aged Kurdish 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 him, the earth itself. In this ancient land, the birthplace of civilization, this ancient endeavor is the result of Saddam's ethnic cleansing. The man, his wife and five daughters were forced to walk for three days, leaving their home and belongings in Kirkuk. Fleeing to Iraqi Kurdistan, they are only a few among the thousands who have been displaced and disappeared. The family, frightened for their future, waits for their son to join them. Saddam holds the family's only son in prison, with a "promise" that he would be returned if the family left their ancestral home. The family has left … and they are still waiting for his return.
The quiet dignity of this gentle father who wanted only to protect his family speaks for all those who have been denied even the most basic of human rights and whose voices have gone unheard. The world community has come to the rescue of so many others. The numbers in Iraq rival those in Bosnia and Kosovo. The piles of bones grow larger. Does anyone remember the cost of our indifference in Srbrenica?
In the last few weeks, we have received word that Saddam is displacing thousands more, including whole villages, as he creates a no-man's 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. The voices of real people have not been heard in the halls of the United Nations. These voices belong to people who bleed, cry and pray for our help. They have no place to turn and live in despair.
Today, as a result of the truth Colin Powell spoke, the people of Iraq have hope in their hearts. I pray this hope does not fade because of our indifference. From Colin Powell's lips to God's Ears!

Kathryn Cameron Porter is the president of Human Rights Alliance.

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