02 Jul 2013

The Toll of Violence on the State of Human Rights in Iraq

On 27 June 2013, the Human Rights Office of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), in cooperation with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), released a new report that provides an overview of the situation of human rights in Iraq during the second half of 2012. This report comes at a time when Iraq is witnessing significant internal political tensions, demonstrations and an increased involvement in the developments in Syria (whether by hosting over 150,000 Syrian refugees or by the movements of fighters to and from Iraq). These national and regional tensions are in turn reflected directly on the ground in the increasing number of violent incidents occurring in various parts of the country.

According to UNAMI figures, at least 3,238 civilians were killed and 10,379 injured in 2012, which is viewed as a worrying reversal of the decline in violence witnessed over the last few years. Furthermore, the month of April 2013 was the deadliest since June 2008 as a total of 712 people were killed and another 1,633 were wounded in acts of terrorism and acts of violence. The figure rose again in the following month of May to reach 1,045 Iraqis killed and another 2,397 wounded.

Iraqi human rights activists are also coming under increased pressure as the violence is sometimes targeting them directly. Jalal Diab, the head of the Iraqi NGO “Ansar Al Hurria” which advocates for human rights and the rights of black Iraqi, was assassinated on 29 April 2013 near the city of Basra in southern Iraq. The crime against Jalal Diab came at a time when he was leading a national campaign to secure the rights of black Iraqi citizens (estimated to be between 1.5 - 2 million persons) about which he said: “we still have a long road ahead of us before our youth can attain better and higher positions, but we already broke the fear barrier that had swallowed black Iraqis and we achieved a great deal”.

While there are some good indicators about the progress of development and humanitarian work in the country, these modest gains cannot become sustainable if the security situation continues to worsen. The fragile state of human rights in the country will be greatly undermined by the mounting violence with too little being done to protect civilians. The progress made to implement the National Action Plan on Human Rights and new laws must be coupled with more efforts to reduce interference by parties with purely political agendas.

“The return to high casualty figures means that much more needs to be done to protect civilians,” said Martin Kobler, Special UN Representative for Iraq. “We have consistently urged Iraqi leaders to engage in dialogue and develop policies that address the root causes of the problem. Too many innocent lives have been lost,” he added. In the end, only time will tell if human rights and the value of human lives will become more important to the main players than the power struggle that has plagued Iraq with death and instability for the last decade.

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