Continuing Iraq’s Positive Human Rights Trajectory

The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued the following assessment of democracy and human rights in Iraq, as part of its annual Human rights report:

The principal human rights concerns in Iraq in 2018 were the lasting effects of Daesh atrocities, the use of the death penalty, gender disparity in society and politics, violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, and the excessive use of force against demonstrators. Following significant military progress against Daesh at the end of 2017, 4.1 million internally displaced persons had safely returned home by December 2018 to begin rebuilding their lives, while 1.8 million remained displaced.

National elections in May were held according to democratic standards and were largely peaceful. However, the continuing security threat of Daesh, preparation for elections, and a protracted period of government formation distracted the Government of Iraq from addressing major human rights issues.

There was a pressing need to address the societal effects of Daesh atrocities, in particular the stigma associated with survivors of sexual violence, children born of rape, and widows of Daesh members. The UK funded projects to reduce stigma, promote community action to prevent sexual violence, and facilitate access to services for survivors. The UN Investigative Team, established following UN Security Council Resolution 2379, was deployed to Iraq to embark on its mandate to hold Daesh accountable by collecting, preserving, and storing evidence of Daesh crimes.

This included supporting and complementing investigations carried out by the Iraqi authorities, and exhuming mass graves. The first mass grave exhumation took place on 15 March 2019 in the village of Kojo, the hometown of Nadia Murad. The UK-led Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative is working with partners to develop the Murad Code. Drawing on the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict and in consultation with Nadia Murad’s Initiative, the Murad Code will capture international standards and best practice that governments, international agencies and NGOs should adhere to when gathering evidence for judicial purposes.

The use of the death penalty remained a significant concern over the summer, when the then Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi expedited cases of convicted Daesh members, with strong public support. The Iraqi Ministry of Justice announced that 32 executions had taken place between January and August. The UK publicly condemned the use of the death penalty on a number of occasions, and continued to press the Government of Iraq to improve transparency on death penalty cases, and adhere to international standards on due process and fair trials.

In the run up to the national elections in May, the intimidation of female candidates forced some to withdraw their candidacy. The UK and EU jointly and publicly criticised this behaviour. Despite Iraq’s Constitution requiring 25% of MPs to be female, women remained sidelined from political decision making. October saw the murder of 2 high-profile women, Souad al Ali and Tara Fares, demonstrating the continuing threat of violence against women. The UK regularly highlighted the importance of gender equality in society and in politics, including by supporting the formation of a women’s caucus to strengthen the voice of Iraq’s 83 female MPs. We worked closely with the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq to support the development of Iraq’s second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

Lack of security, access to services and jobs, and marginalisation in general were the principal concerns for Iraq’s religious and ethnic minority communities, which in turn accelerated the emigration of members of minority groups. We consistently raised with the Government of Iraq, including the new Foreign Minister, the need to protect vulnerable people, including members of minority groups. By December, we had contributed over £14.4 million to the UN’s Funding Facility for Stabilisation to help the Government of Iraq rebuild communities in liberated areas, including the Ninewa Plains, home to many minority groups.

While Iraq’s media environment remained relatively free in comparison to the wider Middle East region, serious issues persisted. In April, Human Rights Watch reported arbitrary detentions and violence by Kurdish security forces against protesters and journalists. In July, the Government of Iraq shut down the internet for several days to disrupt the organisation and reporting of protests in southern Iraq. In September, Amnesty International reported that the Iraqi security forces had responded with excessive force and violence to these protests. The UK repeatedly underlined the importance of an effective and impartial media. To support fundamental media freedoms, we funded training for 280 journalists, media specialists, social media activists, and university professors.

In 2019, the UK will both press and support the Government of Iraq to make substantive reforms to be more inclusive, protect vulnerable people, deliver services to all Iraqis, and ensure that the conditions which enabled Daesh do not return. The formation of a new Government of Iraq is an important opportunity to continue Iraq’s positive human rights trajectory, but we need to maintain the pressure. We will continue to press for improvements on human rights, with a particular focus on the women, peace and security agenda, and on freedom of religion or belief. Ensuring the rule of law and fundamental human rights are crucial to Iraq’s long-term stabilisation and security.

(Source: UK FCO)

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