Dr. Riyadh Lafta, epidemiologist, Professor

Re: Dr. Riyadh Lafta, epidemiologist, Professor

To: Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, Commander, Multi-National Force-Iraq and others

From: Charles B. Davison, Barrister and SolicitorGail Davidson, Executive Director LRWC

Date: 2007-05-03

LRWC is concerned that Dr. Riyadh Lafta may be the target of actions designed to prevent him continuing his professional work as an epidemiologist recording the number of excess deaths in Iraq caused by the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 and the continuing occupation. LRWC is also concerned that Dr. Lafta’s physical freedom and safety may be in jeopardy.

LRWC calls on the Coalition Forces and the government of Iraq to immediately put in place special protection measures adequate to:

  • Guarantee the physical safety of Dr. Lafta; and,
  • Ensure his ability to conduct his professional activities as an epidemiologist, within and without Iraq, without intimidation, interference or threats to his personal safety or professional integrity; and,
  • Accommodate Dr. Lafta’s travel outside of Iraq.

LRWC’s concern arises from reports of two occurrences for which no legal justification has been advanced. In April 2007 United Kingdom authorities refused to issue Dr. Lafta the necessary transit visa allowing him to pass through Heathrow airport enroute to Canada. Dr. Lafta was scheduled to speak at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver British Columbia on April 20, 2007. Some two years earlier, Dr. Lafta had been granted a U.K. visitor’s visa without incident. We know of no change in Dr. Lafta’s status since then other than the publication of the report referred to below. We are aware that Dr. Lafta’s work requires him to travel to disseminate and collect knowledge. The second occurrence of concern is the recent search of Dr. Lafta’s home in Baghdad by Coalition military forces occupying Iraq.

Dr. Lafta’s vulnerability to attack is heightened by the fact that he is engaged in work highly critical of the U.S. and the U.K. in Iraq. Dr. Lafta is one of the authors of the October 2006 report that 655,000 Iraqi people have died (between March 2003 and July 2006) as a result of the U.S./U.K.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. The report was based on research conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad and was published in the British medical journal, the Lancet. Initially, Prime Minister Blair and President Bush dismissed the Johns Hopkins report as ‘not credible’. However, on March 27, 2007 the BBC reported, based on government documents obtained through freedom of information requests, that senior U.K. government scientists had confirmed the validity of the John Hopkins report as using ‘tried and tested’ scientific methods and said the methods used were likely to lead to an ‘underestimation of mortality.’ Also on March 20, 2007, Australian biochemist Dr. Gideon Polya, confirmed this analysis when he estimated post invasion excess deaths in Iraq as being over 1,000,000.

LRWC is concerned that parties implicated of wrongdoing by the John Hopkins 2006 report, having failed to discredit the Johns Hopkins report, may now target Dr. Lafta.

Your government has a legal duty to take all necessary measures to protect Dr. Lafta’s physical safety and professional freedom arising under many international, regional and domestic instruments binding on the U.S. and U.K.. The human rights protection requirements of even domestic rights legislation extend ‘to the outposts of the state’s authority’, as articulated by the British Court of Appeal in Baha Mousa et al v. the UK. LRWC emphasizes the duty and necessity to immediately and effectively protect Dr. Lafta’s:

a) right to life and security of the person, arising under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) art. 3 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) art. 6 & 9; and
b) right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law UDHR art. 7 and ICCPR art. 3 & 26; and,
c) freedom of movement UDHR art. 13 and ICCPR art. 12; and,
d) right to effective remedies to prevent or punish rights violations UDHR art. 8 and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (DHRD) art. 12; and,
e) freedom of opinion and expression and freedom to impart ideas and information across boundaries UDHR 19 and ICCPR art. 19; and,
f) freedom to practice his profession, freedom from unlawful interference with home ICCPR art. 17 and DHRD art. 11; and,
g) freedom to criticize governing bodies DHRD art. 8.2 & 9.3.

Please confirm that your government will act to ensure Dr. Lafta’s safety and freedom to continue to practice his profession.

We look forward to receiving a reply from you.