Failure of the Iraqi authorities to tackle an alarming spike in violence is exposing voters who wish to cast their ballots in the country’s parliamentary elections on 30 April to high risk of attack, said Amnesty International.
In the latest attack on Friday, at least 31 people were killed and several more injured after a series of blasts targeted a political party’s election rally in Baghdad. These are the third parliamentary elections to be held since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but will be the first since the withdrawal of US troops in 2011.
“Iraq has been plagued by spiralling violence over the past year resulting in the highest numbers of casualties in years,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“People should be able vote without fear of being deliberately targeted. It is the Iraqi authorities’ duty to ensure that people are able to participate in elections free from attacks by armed groups, intimidation by the security forces and any actions which will interfere with exercising their constitutional right to vote.”
Some 7,800 people, mostly civilians, were killed in 2013 – the highest death toll since 2008 – according to UN figures. The continuing sectarian divide between the majority Shi’a and minority Sunni population, is fuelling violence across Iraq. The Sunni Arab minority feels aggrieved, discriminated against and politically marginalized. Such grievances have led to clashes including in al-Anbar governorate which has seen some of the worst violence in recent months.
Iraqis are set to elect 328 new members for the Council of Representatives, Iraq’s Parliament. The new parliament will in turn elect a new Prime Minister, President and Cabinet.
The elections are being held against a backdrop of longstanding human rights violations:
• Thousands of detainees languish in prison without charge. Many of those who are brought to trial are sentenced to long prison terms after unfair proceedings.
• In many cases convictions are based on “confessions” extracted under torture.
• Iraq remains one the world’s most prolific executioners with 169 executions reported in 2013 – many on terrorism charges.
• Torture and other ill-treatment inside prisons and detention centres remains rife and routinely goes unpunished.
• Journalists also face regular assassination attempts or death threats and are not sufficiently protected by the Iraqi authorities.
“The challenges for any incoming government will extend far beyond restoring security. Torture and other ill-treatment in prisons remains rampant. Detainees languish in prison without charge or face unfair trials and executions are spiralling,” said Said Boumedouha.
“The Iraqi authorities must do all they can to protect polling stations. No one should have to choose between risking their lives and electing their representatives to parliament.”