Human rights on display in Al Hillah

26 Jul 2003 | Army Pfc. Samuel A. Soza

In mid-April, when Saddam Hussein's regime began crumbling, 12 lawyers began work on a plan to show residents that human beings and human rights can co-exist.

The fruit of their rigorous labor, the Human Rights Association of Al Hillah, was displayed prominently July 26 in an opening ceremony at its new headquarters. The city's deputy prosecutor, Mohanned Al-Dolaimi, expressed his gratitude toward the coalition forces for their assistance in the creation of the program.

"For 35 years, Iraqis didn't know what the rights of a human were," said Al-Dolaimi.

Under Saddam Hussein's government, if a citizen had a complaint about human rights issues, such as free speech, they had no representation to the government. If they were to oppose a government decision, they most likely were put in prison, according to Lt. Col. Darwin F. Concon, public safety team analyst for the 358th Civil Affairs Brigade based in Norristown, PA.

Now if a citizen of Al Hillah contests a government action that is viewed as violation of their rights, the Human Rights Association will provide them an attorney free of charge.

"[The program] gives the public of Al Hillah a voice where they never had one," Concon said.

The 45-year-old from Memphis, Tenn. explained that the 358th worked with the governate support teams to help renovate the office building, as well as formulate the program's layout.

The building itself had belonged to the Ba'ath Party until coalition forces captured it and turned it over to association members.

The program was originally started with twelve local lawyers -- one of whom has been selected as a member of newly formed government body in Baghdad -- has since gained a workforce of 80 volunteers.

Founders hope to expand the Human Rights Association's reach by establishing more centers around Iraq, including Baghdad, said Concon.

Coalition forces are looking at a neighboring site for a group that would concentrate on specifically on women rights.

With many programs, such as this one, aiming to restore Iraq's honor and reputation it won't be long until the war-torn country is on its way to free independency, Concon said.

"Freedom is a good thing," he said.