Iraq paid a total of $52.4 billion in war reparations that it owed for Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Iraq was compelled to make this payment when the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 687 in April 1991 finding that "Iraq […] is liable under international law for any direct loss, damage — including environmental damage and the depletion of natural resources — or injury to foreign Governments, nationals, and corporations as a result of its unlawful invasion and occupation of Kuwait," decided "to create a fund to pay compensation for claims" and "to establish a commission that will administer the fund." The UN Security Council even reaffirmed this stance on May 2003, with Resolution 1483, which ordered Iraq to send 5 per cent of "all export sales of petroleum, petroleum products, and natural gas" to the UN Compensation Commission to cover war reparations.
Payment of reparations for an illegal invasion is a key principle of international humanitarian law. By requiring an invading country to pay reparations for damage caused by their actions, international law aims to deter future wars of aggression. Another aim is to provide transitional justice to people affected by illegal invasion. For example, American families affected by the Sudan's Bashir regime's support for militant groups in the 1990s demanded compensation from Sudan's cash-strapped transitional government, ending in a $335 million settlement.
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The plight of refugees and other non-nationals in Iraq after the fall of the government of Saddam Hussein on 11 April, 2003 is well documented. However, no such compensation is demanded by the UN Security Council from the USA or the UK, although it has undoubtedly established that their joint invasion of Iraq in 2003 was illegal. The then United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said in September 2004 that: "From our point of view and the UN Charter point of view, it [the war] was illegal." Sir John Chilcot's report of the Iraq Inquiry, published in 2016, also found that the UK's decision to join the USA in the Iraq invasion was premature and made before exhausting all other options. The report concluded that the UK government proceeded on the basis of false information and, not only was the intelligence information wrong, but the war also lacked a legal basis.
Hundreds of thousands of people died in the joint USA-UK led invasion of Iraq that spanned more than thirteen years. All parties, including the USA and the UK, committed war crimes, including massacres and torture on a massive scale. On the face of this illegal invasion, the UN's inaction to create a commission to compensate Iraq, its people and foreigners affected by war, reveals systematic failures of the UN-led international justice system and proves, once again, that powerful actors can get away with blatant violations of international law.
(Ahmad Ghouri is Senior Lecturer in Commercial Law, University of Sussex)
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.