By Emily Bare / GICJ

The Iraqi people are facing extreme violations to their fundamental rights by Iraqi militias and security forces, with one of them being the systematic exercise of enforced disappearances. According to evidence obtained by Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ), there are around 500,000 to 1,000,000 victims of enforced disappearances in the state of Iraq. Over recent years, GICJ has presented these rampant cases of enforced disappearance before relevant UN mechanisms. Despite efforts to curb these atrocities in Iraq, cases of enforced disappearance only seem to be escalating.

During its 51st session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held on the 20th of September an interactive dialogue with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. During that interactive dialogue, Emily Bare, on behalf of GICJ, once again reiterated the pervasiveness of enforced disappearance in Iraq. During her oral statement, she welcomed the recent report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances but criticised its failure to recognise Iraq as a particular area of concern. She highlighted that the report reveals Iraq as having the highest number of outstanding documented cases of enforced disappearance, standing at 16,427 victims, but also noted that evidence obtained by GICJ shows a drastically larger number of victims than what was reported. Emily brought attention to evidence that was gathered over the past five years showing the militias burying bodies in mass graves and arbitrarily holding individuals in secret prisons. In her concluding remarks, she urged the Human Rights Council to support the mission of the Working Group in further investigating these grievous crimes in Iraq.

Once again during the same discussion of the 51st session of the HRC, Martin Browne, on behalf of GICJ, furthered this sentiment by criticising states’ lack of engagement with the Working Group and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances. During his oral statement, he welcomed the report of the Working Group and condemned the lack of regulation regarding the use of technology by states to track down human rights defenders. In contrast, he highlighted the positive aspects of technology and its usefulness in documenting, investigating, and sharing information about the location of detention sites and disappeared persons. In his concluding remarks, he urged the Iraqi state to provide information to families on the whereabouts of their disappeared family members and the locations of detention facilities and mass burial sites to facilitate effective identification of victims.

Further, GICJ has also brought the issue of enforced disappearances to the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) several times during its review of Iraq. During its 23rd session, of the on the 16th of September, GICJ addressed this issue anew. Emily Bare presented a statement on behalf of GICJ that focused on Iraq's failure to implement the CED's recommendations to domestically implement laws on enforced disappearance. She first focused on the issue of enforced disappearance in the context of migration and how it relates to the forceful displacement of Iraqi people through the militia's use of ethnic cleansing operations. She raised examples of abductions and executions of thousands of people who were forcefully displaced by the militias, and whose whereabouts remain unknown. Emily also criticised Iraq for failing to fully adopt measures to bring into effect legal provisions required by the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (Convention). Although Iraq has ratified the Convention, she highlighted that the state has completely failed to fulfil its obligations thereunder. In her concluding remarks, she welcomed the upcoming CED visit to Iraq and viewed it as crucial in helping to bring justice to the victims of Iraq. 

Also, during the 23rd session of the CED on the 16th of September, Martin Browne delivered a statement on behalf of GICJ raising concern about the proposed changes to the procedures permitting the CED to request additional information from states under Article 29(4) and for Urgent Actions under Article 30. He emphasized that for countries, such as Iraq, that need regular intensive reviews of their activity or inactivity toward combatting enforced disappearances, the proposed 2-year review period would be counter-productive to securing progress on concrete improvements. He stated that changes to procedures should ensure greater implementation of the Convention and facilitate sustained pressure on countries where there remain systemic issues, and this procedural proposal would do the opposite in Iraq. In his concluding remarks, he called for more states to ratify the Convention and for the CED to further inquire into their procedural proposal. 

During this same session of the CED, Naji Haraj, the Executive Director of GICJ, addressed in an oral statement to the Committee GICJ's concern regarding the non-acknowledgement of the Iraqi government on the issue of enforced disappearances in the country. He condemned Iraq's failure to implement the recommendations of the Committee. Mr. Haraj highlighted the suffering of families in Iraq, especially regarding their lack of access to information on the whereabouts of their disappeared family members and the ignorance of the government in providing them any assistance. Mr. Haraj urged the CED to put more pressure on the Iraqi authorities to identify the disappeared victims and provide families with more assistance and information.

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) condemns the violence perpetrated against civilians in Iraq by Iraqi militias and security forces, as they seriously violate International Human Rights law. GICJ is also dismayed at the lack of Iraqi government cooperation and its failure to hold perpetrators accountable. We urge the Iraqi government to implement measures to uphold their obligations under the Convention and provide families of the disappeared with information on their whereabouts. Lastly, we strongly request the creation of an independent investigative mechanism to be created to further the investigation and documentation of the cases of enforced disappearance in Iraq.


Iraq, Enforced Disappearance, HRC51, Justice, Human Rights, Geneva, geneva4justice, GICJ, Geneva International Centre for Justice

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