UN report highlights improvement beside renewed concerns on the situation of human rights in Iraq

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BAGHDAD/GENEVA, 14 December 2009- The latest report of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) shows improvement beside renewed concerns on the situation of human rights in Iraq. The document, that covers the period from 1 January to 30 June 2009, makes special emphasis on the areas of rule of law and impunity, the reimplementation of the death penalty, the situation in prisons and detention centers, and allegations of torture.

The report also notes that the first half of 2009 was characterized by further improvements in the security situation with fewer high-visibility mass-casualty attacks by militias, insurgents and criminal groups than recorded in 2008. However, despite the overall reduction in attacks, indiscriminate attacks as well as targeted killings of security forces, high ranking officials and civil servants, religious and political leaders, members of professional groups such as journalists, educators, medical doctors, judges and lawyers continued to claim lives throughout the reporting period. Numerous reports indicated increased violence directed at persons based on their perceived sexual orientation.

Violence against women and "honor"-related homicides also remains "a serious concern, particularly in the region of Kurdistan where, despite the efforts by legislators, many crimes went unpunished."

During the reporting period, 31 death row inmates were executed, including one woman. Both UNAMI and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have expressed their concern about the Government's decision to resume executions, noting that the Iraqi criminal justice system does not provide sufficient fair trial guarantees.

The report stresses that "significant progress remains to be achieved to fully restore the rule of law and to systematically address the issue of impunity." UNAMI has continuously stated that security in Iraq may not be sustainable unless significant steps are taken to uphold the rule of law and human rights and has continued to offer assistance to this end.

The situation in prisons and detention centers in Iraq "remains a major concern." UNAMI' report warns about "the conditions of detainees, many of whom have been deprived of their liberty for months or even years without charges or trials, as well as overcrowding in detention centers run by the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)."

UNAMI remains concerned about violations of the minimum standards of due process, as many detainees "have not had access to judicial review of pre-trial detention, defense counsel, or formally charged with a crime." The report also registers credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment during pre-trial detention in Iraqi detention facilities, as well as those run by the KRG.

The Status of Forces Agreement between the Government of Iraq and the United States of America (SOFA) that came into effect on 1 January 2009 provides for an accelerated review of the files of most security internees held by the Multi-National Force in Iraq (MNF-I), requiring the immediate released of those without judicial warrants. While the process is welcomed, UNAMI also observes a number of challenges stalling its implementation.

On the situation at Camp Ashraf, UNAMI remains concerned and reminds all parties about their obligations towards its residents, and to refrain from forcible expulsion or repatriation of the residents.

During the reporting period, the UN continued its efforts in supporting the authorities and non-governmental organizations to develop an Iraqi owned and led human rights protection system. These included, among other things, technical assistance for an Independent High Commission for Human Rights, and protection frameworks for children, journalists and human rights defenders. UNAMI also provided training and equipment for experts at the Ministry of Human Rights for the exhumation of mass graves.