Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, thank you for this opportunity to be with you today, and to exchange views after an introductory statement on my behalf, to exchange views at - I think what we can all agree - is a critical juncture for the people of Iraq.
However, before I continue, I would like to invite you to join me in a moment of silence, to pay our respects to all those who recently lost their lives or were injured. So, I would like you to pay - with me - tribute to them, and to observe this moment of silence for a minute.
Thank you so much. And although I realise that no words can heal the pain of losing a loved one, I would also like to express my deepest sympathies to the families, of both peaceful protesters and members of security forces. Our thoughts are with you.
Now while we commemorate the fallen - their ideals and demands remain the same. Over the past six weeks, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis - peaceful Iraqis - have been protesting - making genuine, legitimate, demands, loud and clear.
And very true, these demands cover a wide spectrum of issues: an end to corruption, economic growth, employment, reliable public services, prudent and impartial governance, credible elections - as well as a broader reform of the political system, including amendments to the Constitution.
But above all, I think that we can all agree here that many, many, Iraqis are asking for a brighter future - for the country to reach its full potential for the benefit of all Iraqi citizens.
Meanwhile, however, the Iraqi people have paid an unthinkable price to get their voices heard. Since the start of the protests on the first of October, at least 319 people have been killed and around fifteen thousand have been injured, peaceful protesters and members of the security forces.
To date the UN, UNAMI, has published two special reports on human rights issues. And despite the many promises, the harsh reality is that we continue to receive daily reports of new killings, new kidnappings, new arbitrary arrests, new beatings and new threats. I have said it many times – and I will do so again: violence only breeds violence. It should stop, and it should stop now.
A number of peaceful protesters told me last Monday: “We lost our brothers, our friends, our sons. Yet, we had no time to cry. We will not let go. A life in dignity and freedom…or no life.
We started peacefully and are determined to continue in a peaceful way”, so they said.
Now, with all this in mind, I wish to reiterate, also in your presence, the importance of guaranteeing fundamental rights: above all the right to life, but also the right to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression. And I wish to reiterate the importance of delivering full accountability and justice - at the right levels.
Also, the respect for these basic, fundamental rights and principles is – in a way - an essential pre-condition to any form of meaningful dialogue or mediation.
Legitimate, genuine demands deserve meaningful responses and active engagement - both in this House and on the streets.
Mr. Speaker already referred to it, to the paper we published a while ago. From the beginning of the protests, UNAMI has actively reached out to a wide range of Iraqi parties, actors and authorities - including the three Presidencies, the Supreme Judicial Council, peaceful protesters, Members of Parliament and Union Representatives. Based on these discussions, and with full respect for Iraq’s sovereignty, we have proposed a number of concrete steps as a start - as a way forward to confidence-building and reform.
And, most important to emphasise is that now is the time to act, otherwise any momentum will be lost - lost at a time when many, many Iraqis demand concrete results.
You know, as a former Member of Parliament, I believe I can safely state that your role - in your position as a Member of Parliament - elected by the people and also accountable to them – that your role is of utmost importance.
You are important in reaching out to the people, in making their voices heard, in moving forward on key reforms.
And we all know that nothing is more detrimental to public trust than overpromising and underdelivering. Nothing is more harmful than saying A but doing B. And nothing is more damaging than a climate of anger and fear.
Also, it must be understood that daily life has moved online. The disruptions or even blanket shutdowns of internet and/or social media - in recent weeks - were not only unworthy of Iraq’s potential as a free and democratic society, but they were also extremely disruptive to the way people live their lives, they do business and speak their minds. In other words: unrestricted access to the internet is an essential right in today’s digital world. And I am also happy to note that last night I was still having access to the internet. So I would like to emphasise as well that we welcome the restoration of internet access throughout Iraq, and very much hope that this will remain the case, and that unrestricted access to social media will follow soon.
Another subject that has received much attention in recent weeks, is Iraq’s electoral processes.
In fact, the call to overhaul, in a way, Iraq’s electoral processes is a key demand for many.
It is a call for independent and impartial electoral management.
Accordingly, and with the technical assistance of the UN, a lot of work has been done to arrive at a single consolidated electoral legal framework. Now, without wanting to pre-empt parliamentary due processes, and without going into details right now, I would like to emphasize the urgent need for such single legal framework, grouping all relevant laws and bringing the voter closer to the candidates.
UNAMI, the UN, was also asked to provide technical support to the ongoing processes to review and amend the constitution, a review process that - at the end of the day - must be accepted by all Iraqis.
What I witnessed on the streets in the past few days is an accumulation of frustration over the lack of progress in the last 16 years. The desire for an Iraqi identity is obvious. Out of love for their homeland, the many young people on the streets are expressing their hope for better times to come.
Better times for all Iraqis: away from corruption and sectarian quotas, away from unemployment and a lack of basic services. Now, these great hopes call for forward thinking.
Pursuing private or partisan interests might be strategy, but it is not a very solid strategy - far from it.
Please don’t get me wrong: because painting a grim picture is never a goal in itself. And as I often said: the current situation cannot be judged without putting it in the context of Iraq’s past. But I would say that it is high time to build on today’s hopes - it is high time to prioritize the country’s interests above all else.
The young people are asking for nothing more than a better future. And I am convinced that you are part of the solution. The government cannot go it alone. It is a collective responsibility in a way, a responsibility for the whole political class.
And yes, I am very much aware of the fact that Iraq’s daunting challenges did not arise overnight, nor are they solely the product of Iraqi actions. As such, they will not be resolved ‘just like that’, right? But with great determination and concerted, decisive action - it must be possible.
It must be possible to rise to the moment and meet the aspirations of the young.
Once again, and with full respect again for Iraq’s sovereignty, the United Nations is ready to engage or continues to engage with all parties to facilitate constructive dialogue. We will continue to be a partner for all Iraqis.
In closing, I would like to underline that I sincerely hope that your choices, actions and statements will allay the fears of the Iraqi people - that your choices will restore their hope in a brighter future tomorrow.
Thank you so much.