Bringing law to the world's most lawless capital city


United Nations staff undergo a week of intensive security training in the Jordanian capital, Amman, before going into Iraq. They are taught to identify mines and explosives, advised what to do if they're taken hostage and learn first aid.


(31.08.2005)

"It prepares you somewhat for the environment you're going into. It's a kind of reality test," said New Zealand lawyer Michele Law, who has been living in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, for two months.

The staff are then sent into the desert with Jordanian soldiers.

"You're stopped at a checkpoint, guns put in your face and told to go down on the floor. You're ambushed and members of your team mock shot."

Few people failed the training, but it was enough to stop some going into Iraq, she said.

"They tell you things like the road from the airport to the Green Zone is the most dangerous road in the world - which makes you do a double take."

As a lawyer for the UN Office of Constitutional Support helping to draft Iraq's first constitution, Ms Law lives in Baghdad's Green Zone.

The 5sq km Green Zone is surrounded by concrete blast walls topped with razor wire, sandbag bunkers and warning signs. Inside is the Republican Palace, Iraqi Government buildings, foreign and military media and the UN. Many of the UN's workers are security staff.

To get from her home at the Al Rashid Hotel to her office, Ms Law goes through eight checkpoints. "I spend my life at checkpoints."

At first the tight security was very scary for the 32-year-old but now it is part of normal life. "You just get used to it."

There was an average of 100 insurgent attacks every day in Iraq.

Every morning Ms Law awakes to gunfire. "You're always hearing gunfire. Occasionally the building might shake because of a mortar."

There were always water restrictions and recently no water at all after insurgents bombed pipelines.

"I woke up one morning at about 6.30am and heard the gunfire and went back to sleep quite relaxed. Then I heard my toilet gurgling which meant the water had come back on and I leaped out of bed for a shower."

Ms Law tends to stay within the Green Zone. To go out into the Red Zone she must go in a convoy, which takes a day to plan.

Troops have occasionally found hand-made mines or unassembled explosives within the Green Zone.

"But generally in the Green Zone it's very safe. When we're outside we're generally wearing body armour and are in armoured cars. In the evening we have Humvee escorts and have an 11pm curfew."

The UN's mandate in Iraq is to promote national dialogue and consensus building on the drafting of the national constitution under Security Council resolution 1546.

"Part of what I've done is to work with my Iraqi counterparts to design and implement the public submissions process.

"How do you help the public participate when some people are too scared to come out of their houses because they might get shot? In Mosul three days ago three people putting up posters about the referendum were taken and shot in the head."

Despite the risks, the Iraqi Constitutional Committee obtained 450,000 public submissions, including some from the violent Sunni Triangle and Kurdistan.

"I have the utmost respect for the Iraqis I work with because they are supporting the constitution and at least a part of this community would like to kill them.

"It's an incredibly humbling experience and I'm so honoured to work with such dedicated people."

Ms Law was born in London and spent her childhood in the United States, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia, where her father's job with Mobil Oil took the family.

After graduating from law school at Canterbury University, Ms Law joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Wellington and was seconded into then minister Don McKinnon's office.

Three years later Mr McKinnon became Commonwealth Secretary-General and she followed him to London where she was the deputy director of the Office of the Secretary-General.

In that role, Ms Law worked in Fiji after the coup with special envoy Pius Langa - now South Africa's chief justice - to build national conciliation and return the country to constitutional democracy.

She has also worked on democracy building and constitutional issues throughout the Commonwealth in many conflict-torn nations.

Two years ago she met Nicholas Haysom, who was constitutional adviser to former South African President Nelson Mandela, at an international constitutional lawyers conference in Chile.

"I told him, 'If I can ever work with you, that would be great'."

Ms Law was working in private equity in London in May when she received an offer from Mr Haysom to go to Iraq. "Within about a month I was in Baghdad.

"I wanted to contribute to the future of Iraq - to be at this place at this time in history to see if I could help. I have a great hope for the future of this country."


Von: 31 August 2005, http://www.nzherald.co.nz, by Danya Levy

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