By Julia Rowland / GICJ

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) found Iraq to have committed widespread violations and non-implementation of Covenant rights, especially regarding the country’s treatment of human rights defenders, lack of independence of the judiciary and extensive corruption. The CESCR released its Concluding Observations on Iraq’s 5th periodic report following its meetings on 19 and 20 February 2024 with the Iraqi delegation. GICJ participated in the consideration of Iraq’s report and has submitted a joint shadow report to the Committee.

The delegation purposely skirted questions, and mostly focused on describing what laws and plans were being put in place, ignoring questions on the implementation and success of these measures.

The human rights situation in Iraq is dire and deteriorating, riddled by corruption, and characterised by a total lack of will to implement human rights norms. Instead of addressing these issues in earnest, the Iraqi delegation only attempted to dodge questions and deflect accountability, exhibiting a total failure to protect human rights in the country.

Principal subjects of concern and recommendations

General concerns: allocation of resources to ensure realisation of Covenant rights

The Committee’s report depicts an appalling human right situation impacting the economic, social and cultural rights (ESCRs) of all Iraqis, in all spheres. The report paints a picture of a complete lack of commitment to international human rights norms by the State Party.

The Committee has expressed its concern about the lack of full incorporation of the Covenant rights in Iraq’s legal order and the limited instances in which the Covenant is used and applied by domestic courts. Furthermore, the State Party must raise awareness of ESCRs and of their justiciability especially among the judiciary, lawyers, law enforcement and other public officials.

As per Article 2(1) of the Covenant, the State Party must take all steps, especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving the progressive realisation of the rights enshrined. The Committee expressed its concern that the State Party is not conducting cohesive economic policies and instead is dependent on the fluctuating prices of oil and gas, to the detriment of the fulfilment of ESCRs. Additionally, the austerity measures that have been implemented have had a significant adverse impact on the enjoyment of ESCRs. According to the Covenant and several General Comments (14, 15, 17 and 19), the use of retrogressive measures is absolutely prohibited and are incompatible with the core obligations of the Covenant. Therefore, States have no justification in adopting austerity measures that limit the enjoyment of Covenant rights.

The Committee also expressed deep concern about the failure of anti-poverty measures to reduce poverty. High rates of poverty and extreme poverty persist, especially among disadvantaged and marginalised populations. Iraq must intensify its efforts to combat poverty, and ensure that it utilises more resources to fight the problem. It must implement targets to reduce poverty for victims of armed conflict and terrorism, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), people living in rural and urban areas, ethnic and religious minorities, women and girls. Human rights norms should be integrated in these plans.