Deliberate silencing of peaceful voices in Iraq ‘unacceptable’, says UN human rights chief

A new UN report launched on Thursday highlights human rights violations and abuses that were committed during recent demonstrations in Iraq and calls for immediate action for justice.

“This report sheds light on the suffering and provides concrete recommendations to help rebuild public trust”, said UN Special Representative for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert.

Rising unemployment, years of corruption and failing public services had sparked massive protests last October.

Despite promising steps by the current Government, the report, Human Rights Violations and Abuses in the Context of Demonstrations in Iraq, cites actions and omissions in handling the demonstrations during the time when they began up until April.

The report recommends protection measures for demonstrators and redress for victims.

Defending the defenders

Some of those targeted were described the report as influential in their local community in mobilizing protesters, or supportive of protests on social or national media.

“Of great concern is the continued targeting and killing of activists and human rights defenders”, she contintued. “This is not random violence but a deliberate silencing of peaceful voices, coupled with the total impunity enjoyed by perpetrators”.

Demystifying the situation

Based on more than 900 interviews with victims, relatives, witnesses, journalists and civic and political activists, the Human Rights Office of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) documented that at least 487 people were killed and 7,715 injured during the protests – mostly young men.

The report highlights a pattern of excessive force, including live ammunition, when dealing with protesters along with abductions and attacks by so-called unidentified armed actors.

And with some 3,000 demonstrators detained, concerns have mounted over arbitrary detentions and ill-treatment.

“Without accountability, the crimes committed will remain mere statistics, numbers on a page”, warned the UN Special Representative.

Free expression squelched

The right to freedom of expression was also severely curtailed, with frequent internet blackouts, raided news outlets and journalists assaulted, harassed and arbitrarily detained, their material confiscated or deleted.

“People were killed, injured, tortured and mistreated, kidnapped, disappeared, arbitrarily detained, for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression”, said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet,

“This is unacceptable”, she stressed.

More work ahead

Since taking office in May, the current Government has taken welcome steps to establish an independent investigative body and offer some redress for the victims and their families, but much more needs to be done.

“Everyone has the right to peacefully demonstrate and to publicly express their frustration at not being able to provide for themselves and their families”, Ms. Bachelet underscored.

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