Iraq + 1 more

Iraq: Human Rights Report, 01 Jan - 31 Mar 2007

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Introduction

The Human Rights Office (HRO) of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) engages in the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law in close collaboration with Iraqi governmental and non-governmental sectors, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1546 (2004), paragraph 7 (b) (iii), which mandates UNAMI to promote the protection of human rights, national reconciliation, and judicial and legal reform in order to strengthen the rule of law in Iraq. In order to fulfill this mandate, UNAMI HRO monitors the human rights situation in Iraq and assists, especially through capacity-building activities, in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of state and civil society institutions. It collaborates closely with national human rights activists and seeks to maintain direct contact with victims and witnesses of human rights violations.(1)

UNAMI HRO's Human Rights Report, previously published on a bimonthly basis, will henceforth be issued on a quarterly basis. The report, which details serious and widespread human rights violations, is intended to assist the Government of Iraq in ensuring protection of basic human rights and respect for the rule of law. Given prevailing security conditions and the nature of the violence engulfing many parts of the country, UNAMI recognizes the enormous difficulties facing the Iraqi Government in its efforts to restore law and order. Its law enforcement personnel are under relentless attack by insurgency groups, and both Sunni and Shi'a armed groups carry out direct attacks on civilians through suicide bombings, abductions and extrajudicial executions while making no distinction between civilians and combatants. Such systematic or widespread attacks against a civilian population are tantamount to crimes against humanity and violate the laws of war, and their perpetrators are subject to prosecution.

Nonetheless, Iraq remains bound by both its international treaty obligations and its domestic legislation in taking measures to curb the violence. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), in particular, is clear on the basic protections that must be afforded to persons and from which no derogation is permissible even in times of emergency.(2) UNAMI's mandate includes assisting the Government of Iraq in fulfilling its human rights obligations, and remains willing to engage the authorities in a constructive dialogue in order to achieve these objectives. The ultimate aim - ensuring lasting stability and security - can only be realized through the protection of fundamental rights and respect for basic human dignity. UNAMI stands ready to support the Iraqi Government in that effort.

Summary

1. The Government of Iraq continued to face immense security challenges in the face of growing violence and armed opposition to its authority and the rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis. A number of large-scale insurgency attacks had devastating effects on both the civilian population and Iraqi law enforcement personnel, and continued to claim lives among Multinational Force (MNF) personnel. Civilian casualties of the daily violence between January and March remained high, concentrated in and around Baghdad. Violent deaths were also a regular feature of several other cities in the governorates of Nineveh, Salahuddin, Diyala and Babel. The implementation of the Iraqi-led Baghdad Security Plan (Khittat Fardh al-Qanun) on 14 February saw an increase in Iraqi and MNF troop levels and checkpoints on the streets of Baghdad, expanded curfew hours and intensified security operations and raids. The challenge facing the Government of Iraq is not limited to addressing the level of violence in the country, but the longer term maintenance of stability and security in an environment characterized by impunity and a breakdown in law and order. In this context, the intimidation of a large segment of the Iraqi population, among them professional groups and law enforcement personnel, and political interference in the affairs of the judiciary, were rife and in need of urgent attention.

2. In its previous reports on the human rights situation in Iraq, UNAMI regularly cited the

Iraqi Government's official data, including the Ministry of Higher Education's statistics on killings among academics and the Ministry of Interior's statistics on killings among police officers. It is therefore a matter of regret that the Iraqi Government did not provide UNAMI access to the Ministry of Health's overall mortality figures for this reporting period. UNAMI emphasizes again the utmost need for the Iraqi Government to operate in a transparent manner, and does not accept the government's suggestion that UNAMI used the mortality figures in an inappropriate fashion.

3. Evidence which cannot be numerically substantiated in this report nonetheless show that the high level of violence continued throughout the reporting period, attributable to large-scale indiscriminate killings and targeted assassinations perpetrated by insurgency groups, militias and other armed groups. In February and March, sectarian violence claimed the lives of large numbers of civilians, including women and children, in both Shi'a and Sunni neighborhoods. One of the most devastating attacks occurred on 3 February when a truck packed with a ton of explosives detonated, killing an estimated 135 people and injuring 339 others in a busy market in the predominantly Shi'a district of al-Sadriyya of Baghdad. While government officials claimed an initial drop in the number of killings in the latter half of February following the launch of the Baghdad Security Plan, the number of reported casualties rose again in March.

4. In its previous reports, UNAMI expressed its concern that many Baghdad neighborhoods had become divided along Sunni and Shi'a lines and were increasingly controlled by armed groups purporting to act as protectors and defenders of these areas. Efforts to find a long-term and durable solution to mass displacement will necessitate a reversal of this trend, enabling civilians to return to their homes safely and voluntarily. According to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an estimated 736,422 persons were forced to flee their homes due to sectarian violence and military operations since the bombing of the al-Askari shrine in Samarra' on 22 February 2006. Of these, more than 200,000 were displaced since December 2006. Together with 1.2 million IDPs displaced prior to 22 February 2006, they are in need of continuous assistance, including shelter and improved access to the Public Distribution System (PDS). Additionally, Palestinian refugees residing in several neighborhoods in Baghdad continued to be victims of the deteriorating security situation. According to a Palestinian human rights organization and other Palestinian sources, 198 Palestinians were killed in targeted assassinations or attacks on their residential compounds since 4 April 2003. Many Palestinians responded to continuing threats and attacks by leaving their homes and seeking refuge in camps along the Iraq-Syria border.

5. UNAMI notes again the serious trend of growing intolerance towards minorities, whose representatives continued to lodge complaints about discrimination, intimidation and individual targeting on religious and political grounds. The 2005 Iraqi Constitution protects the "religious freedoms" of all of its citizens. Of equal concern are ongoing attempts to suppress freedom of expression through tighter control of the broadcast media and printed press. UNAMI noted several incidents of harassment, legal action and intimidation against journalists addressing issues of corruption and mismanagement of public services in the Region of Kurdistan. Across the country, attacks against journalists and media outlets continued, resulting in a high number of casualties among media workers.

6. UNAMI remained concerned at the apparent lack of judicial guarantees in the handling of suspects arrested in the context of the Baghdad Security Plan. While in his public statements Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged that the government would respect human rights and ensure due process within a reasonable time for those under arrest, there were no references to any mechanisms for monitoring the conduct of arresting and detaining officials. The new emergency procedures announced on 13 February contained no explicit measures guaranteeing minimum due process rights. Rather, they authorized arrests without warrants and the interrogation of suspects without placing a time limit on how long they could be held in pre-trial detention. The use of torture and other inhumane treatment in detention centers under the authority of the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense continues to be of utmost concern. UNAMI re-emphasizes the urgent need to establish an effective tracking mechanism to account for the location and treatment of all detainees from the point of arrest.

7. During this reporting period, UNAMI further expanded its monitoring and reporting activities in the three northern governorates under the authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), where the security situation remained stable. Infringements to freedom of expression, including press and media freedoms, were of serious concern. Equally serious was the lack of due process with regard to detainees held by Kurdish security forces (Asayish), the majority on suspicion of involvement in acts of terrorism and other serious crimes. Hundreds have been held for prolonged periods without referral to an investigative judge or charges brought against them. UNAMI also noted the absence of serious measures by the KRG authorities to address the growing level of violence against women, including prompt investigations and criminal prosecution of perpetrators.

Notes:

(1) UNAMI HRO has a physical presence in Amman, Baghdad and Erbil, with over 30 staff members employed in total. UNAMI HRO in Basra closed when the human rights staff was withdrawn for security reasons in October 2006. Security conditions on the ground continue to severely restrict freedom of movement of UN staff in all regions except three governorates under the authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government, impairing both protection and promotion activity by UNAMI HRO.

(2) Iraq ratified the ICCPR in 1971, and all successive governments are bound by this treaty obligation.