Update on Demonstrations in Iraq: Accountability for Human Rights Violations and Abuses by Unidentified Armed Elements (May 2021, Baghdad) [EN/AR]


I. Summary

“Allow me to be frank with you. We all know who the killers are, but do you think the authorities dare to mention their names? The Government knows exactly who the killers are, and they are affiliated to the political parties and the ‘militia’. Do you expect me to believe that for one year and a half, the State cannot find the killers? They have all the authority and resources to do so”.

UNAMI interview with father of demonstrator killed in Baghdad in October 2019, March 2021

Pursuant to its mandate under Security Council Resolution 2576 (2021) to ‘promote accountability and the protection of human rights’, UNAMI continues to monitor and document human rights violations and abuses in the context of ongoing demonstrations, which began in October 2019 and have continued into 2021, calling for political reform and the fulfilment of economic and social rights in Iraq.

This report, Update on Demonstrations in Iraq: Accountability for Human Rights Violations and Abuses by Unidentified Armed Elements, is UNAMI’s sixth public report on this subject since October 2019. It focuses on the steps taken by the Iraqi authorities to ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses linked to these demonstrations, in particular those attributed to ‘unidentified armed elements’1 frequently referred to by victims and witnesses as ‘militia’.

The report serves as an update to Human Rights Violations and Abuses in the Context of Demonstrations in Iraq, released in August 2020, which documented a range of human rights violations and abuses attributable both to state security forces and ‘unidentified armed elements’, and detailed patterns of demonstrations-related violence between 1 October 2019 and 30 April 2020 which resulted in the deaths of at least 487 people and injury to 7,715.

In all its previous public reports on demonstrations UNAMI provided concrete recommendations aimed at ensuring accountability and providing redress to victims. Since taking office in May 2020, the Government has taken welcome steps to establish an independent fact-finding body,and offered certain redress for the victims and their families. The High Judicial Council established judicial investigative committees in each governorate, registered 8,163 cases of violations, abuses, criminal acts and complaints related to violence during demonstrations, and initiated thousands of investigations. However, much more needs to be done, particularly the implementation of arrest warrants and the initiation of prosecutions to hold accountable perpetrators of serious crimes against activists.

Between 1 October 2019 and 15 May 2021, UNAMI documented 48 incidents of attempted or completed targeted killings of protestors and critics, mostly shootings by ‘unidentified armed elements’, resulting in at least 32 deaths and injuries to 21 others. Although there have been several arrests related to targeted killings, not a single case appears to have moved beyond the investigative phase. The ‘unidentified armed elements’ responsible for the abduction and torture or illtreatment of at least 32 protestors from across Iraq similarly enjoy impunity. At least 20 protestors abducted by ‘unidentified armed elements’ remain missing, without any apparent efforts to locate and release them or determine their fate.

Moreover, no information has been released publicly as to the circumstances behind the violent attacks attributed to ‘unidentified armed elements’, including information on the identity of those responsible. Consequently, UNAMI finds that in addition to the observed inability to fully guarantee the right to life, or to uphold obligations to protect all persons from enforced disappearances and torture and ill-treatment, the rights of many victims and their families to truth, justice, redress and reparation have not been fully respected.

UNAMI acknowledges the complex environment in which the Government operates, facing many challenges at once in its pursuit of accountability. Whilst thecomplexity is well understood, the pursuit of accountability must remain a priority. The lack thereof only emboldens the perpetrators and enables recurrence of serious abuses with impunity. Moreover, and with only limited protection available, the continued attacks against critics give rise to serious human rights protection concerns. Space for freedom of expression has significantly deteriorated meanwhile, leading many to self-censor and others to relocate to areas outside of Federal Iraq.

This report aims to highlight the criticality and urgency of meaningful steps toward accountability, and the responsibility of the Iraqi authorities to provide victims the right to justice, truth, redress,and reparations beyond financial compensation.