Iraq: New government must put human rights at heart of agenda

The newly-formed government in Iraq must ensure human rights are placed at the heart of its agenda, and reverse course from decades of impunity, Amnesty International said in a new open letter.

Writing to new Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhim after the government was sworn in yesterday (7 May), the organization highlighted continuing concerns relating to the lack accountability for the authorities’ violent response to protests last year and early this year; in the aftermath of the conflict against the armed group calling itself ‘Islamic State’ (IS); and also concerns relating to COVID-19 and domestic violence.

“This new government has an opportunity to ensure that the promotion and protection of human rights in Iraq is prioritized after years of appalling violations,” said Razaw Salihy, Amnesty International’s Iraq Research.

“The Iraqi people have paid too high a price for decades of impunity and what have so far been repeatedly hollow promises by the authorities. We welcome the government’s stated commitment to hold those responsible for protesters’ killings accountable, and to prioritize addressing the needs of the internally displaced people.

“It must now translate these promises into immediate and meaningful action, including addressing the Iraqi people’s longstanding socio-economic grievances.”

COVID-19 and domestic violence

In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Iraq has been placed into partial lockdown which has led to a rise in cases of domestic violence.

The letter adds: “The uptick in cases of domestic violence reported by media and civil society organizations, in some instances leading to the death of women and the severe injuring of a young girl, demands immediate action by the government to ensure that women and girls can access essential services and protection.”

Response to protests

Protests in the country late last year and early this year were met with a brutal response by authorities, leading to the unlawful killing of hundreds of people and leaving thousands more injured.

According to research carried out by Amnesty International, security forces - including members of the Popular Mobilization Units, as well as unknown gunmen - met the largely peaceful protesters with live ammunition, hunting rifles, live fire consistent with sniper fire, tear gas and water cannons.

Amnesty International is calling on the government to urgently rein in security forces, and initiate thorough and independent investigations into the killings. The letter adds: “The authorities have had months to change course away from violent repression. They must reassure protesters that they have a right to expect that the security forces will protect them and not arbitrarily kill and maim them and that their government will address their grievances, particularly their demands for their social and economic rights to be met.”

Aftermath of ‘Islamic State’ conflict

The letter also addresses several issues relating to the conflict against IS, including the collective punishment of internally displaced Iraqis with perceived affiliation to IS, the fate of thousands of men and boys who were forcibly disappeared by security forces during the conflict, impunity for human rights abuses committed by all parties to the conflict, and crimes committed against ethnic and religious minorities in northern Iraq.

 

The full text of the open letter can be read here.