Count Hans Christof von Sponeck resigned in 2000 from his position as UN Assistant Secretary-General and UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq to protest against the economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations to the Iraqi people. He is a member of the War Crimes Commission in Kuala Lumpur – founded in 2007 by former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Dr Mahathir – whose mission is to verify and monitor the complaints of victims of war and conflicts and other crimes recognized as violations of international law [1]. He answers questions from the independent Swiss journalist Silvia Cattori.


 Hans Christof von Sponeck  was denouncing here the consequences, especially for children, of the UN criminal sanctions against Iraq

Hans von Sponeck

 H.C. von Sponeck, Former UN Assistant Secretary-General & UN Humanitarian

Silvia Cattori: Your own investigation [2] as well as the reports presented by Swiss Senator Dick Marty in 2006 and 2007 at the Council of Europe on the CIA’s secret detention centres had already provided proof of the systematic practice of torture by the CIA [3]. Does the report on CIA torture practices published recently by the US Senate bring forth new elements besides what we already knew? Does it have in your view a specific import?

H.C. von Sponeck: The public release by the US Senate Intelligence Committee of the 500 page summary of its CIA torture report must be recognized as an important contribution to the judicial pro­cess. While it is commendable that torture atrocities com­mit­ted by US authorities have been officially acknowledged this is not enough. US leaders in both the US Congress and the US Administration including President Obama must show lead­er­ship and commitment in confirm­ing that such evidence will be used by US legal authorities to begin the process of prosecution of all the perpetrators.

The release of the torture report has reiterated what has been known globally for a long time namely that torture and war crimes were committed by US Government personnel. Governments in Europe and elsewhere as well as civil society organizations have been privy to information about torture in jails in Iraq (e.g., Abu Ghraib, Camps Bucca and Crop­per), in Afghanistan (e.g. Bagram), in Cuba (Guantana­mo).

As a member of the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Com­mission, I have interacted with torture victims from Ba­gram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo in 2011 and 2012 and heard first hand of their immense suffering. Two volumes of evidence of torture and war crimes collected by the KL Commission were handed by Denis Halliday and myself in June 2014 in London to an Iraq hearing conducted by members of the UK House of Commons and House of Lords. Thanks to the investigations carried out by Swiss Senator Dick Marty and submitted to the Council of Europe, the world has known of CIA-organized rendition flights across Europe and the existence of secret jails, e.g., in Poland, Romania, Egypt, Libya, Syria and elsewhere. We are aware that captives were transported to these jails for the sole purpose of securing information through torture.

The significance of the released report, therefore, has not so much to do with the confirmation of torture. Gruesome details of inhuman treatment identified in the US Senate report have simply added to the picture of horror of which we were aware. What is new and significant, however, has to do with the official admission by the US Congress of such crimes and the resulting US obligation to prosecute.

Silvia Cattori: The petition you’ve initiated with Denis Halliday [4] calls on the United States to take, as per their obligation according to international law, proceedings against those that have practiced such torture. Do you think it’s likely the American government will act accordingly?

H.C. von Sponeck: The fact that neither the US Senate nor the US House of Representatives nor the Government of President Obama have as yet revealed their intentions as to the next steps in the judicial process, raises grave concerns internationally. It cannot be that the country which wants to see itself in the forefront of the defence of human rights and justice provides yet another dramatic example of a serious double standard in the application of law.

Silvia Cattori: In Iraq, the United States not only have committed torture, they have thrown the country into chaos which has already cost the lives of millions of people and which keeps having lethal effects all over the region. Isn’t it of such a crime too that the United States should also be held responsible first and foremost?

H.C. von Sponeck: Should the United States not take the step of prosecu­tion, the obligation to do so will have to shift to the Inter­nation­al Criminal Court (ICC) or, under universal jurisdiction, to a national court. In 2012 the ICC denied to hear these cases of torture and war crimes on the grounds that it was not within its jurisdiction to hear such cases.

One can only hope that the recently appointed ICC Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, will understand her high responsibility to defend the integrity of the ICC and accept to hear the cases should they be re-submitted in the event that the US Government fails in its responsibility to do so.

Silvia Cattori: Thank you so much, mister von Sponeck.

December 30, 2014

Trnslation of  the H.C von Sponeck interview:


[1]  Commission:

[2] It is time for the damage to be compensated

TIME on Iraq War: What Did We Do to Deserve This?


[4] Petition STOP TORTURE: Accountability: YES – Impunity: NO (English)