Geneva 28 May 2020

GICJ welcomes with great ambivalence UNAMI’s most recent report, “Demonstration in Iraq, 3rd update”, published on 23 May 2020. Many aspects of the report demonstrate UNAMI’s willingness to achieve accountability for the human rights violations that occurred during the ongoing protests in Iraq. Yet much of its rhetoric remains too deferential to the capacity of the Iraqi government to investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of such abuses.

We acknowledge that some of UNAMI’s recommendations are specific, such as clarifying the command structure of the country’s security apparatus and disarming groups operating outside the official command structure. Much is needed to control militias which are enjoying far too much leeway. However, UNAMI is not focusing on the core of the problem: the influence of militias in the Iraq political landscape. Political parties are beholden to militias and this influences the legislative and judicial branches of the Iraqi government. True justice will only be achieved by a government that is free of the influence of the militias.

The report regrettably makes an erroneous conclusion concerning the role of the Iraqi government’s security forces in the abuses. It nonchalantly remarks that the evidence did “not suggest the involvement of Iraqi Security Forces” then proceeds to observe that “33 individuals were arrested and detained by Iraqi Security Forces and did not or could not contact their families during their detention”. This is contradiction is confusing; clearly, the Iraqi Security Forces are implicated in these 33 violations.

This erroneous conclusion is based on the observation that “none of those interviewed were referred to an investigative judge or had access to lawyers or families”, thus precluding government involvement. This logic is inaccurate to say the least. In all the past years, corrupt Iraqi government authorities have notoriously engaged in extra-judicial and secret arrests.

Lastly, the report is too quick to shake off any evidence of government participation in the abuses through acts of omission. Not only has GICJ reviewed evidence of militias beating demonstrators in front of security forces, the report itself details the government’s open reluctance to investigate abductions and locate the victims, even though families have submitted official complaints.

As such GICJ renews its appeal to UNAMI, and the United Nations at large, to take a firmer stance towards the Government of Iraq, to rethink and dispense with its deferential approach as the tone of the report demonstrates an appeasement of the Iraqi government without sufficient condemnation of their actions and deliberate inactions. Misleading statements such as “UNAMI welcomes the commitment of the new Government to establishing the number and circumstances of casualties arising from violence linked to demonstrations and publishes this report in support of Government efforts towards accountability” are irresponsible when the facts revealed in the very same report clearly demonstrates a laxity and an obvious failure by the Iraqi government to take reasonable steps towards accountability or to sufficiently address (in any form) the serious issues highlighted in the report.

The key takeaway that GICJ derives from the UNAMI report by reading between the lines of the unwarranted “niceties” is that human rights violations in Iraq continues under entrenched impunity with little to no effort by the Iraqi government to ensure accountability and justice for gross violations. GICJ, therefore, repeats its call for independent action such as an International Tribunal to prosecute human rights violations in Iraq since 2003. Such international action is the only way to achieve true justice in Iraq.

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