'Active curtailment of free expression' in Kurdistan Region: UNAMI's Hennis-Plasschaert

Looking ahead to October elections
Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert gives a briefing to the UN Security Council on May 11, 2021 (Photo Credit: Twitter/@UNIraq)

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SULAIMANI — Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert gave her quarterly briefing to the UN Security Council on Tuesday (May 11), just five months before Iraqis go to the polls in October to elect a new parliament.

“These elections were a central demand of the protest movement; and yet, many of its members continue to be persecuted with rampant impunity,” she said, citing the recent assassination of activist Ihab al-Wazni in Karbala.

During her briefing, Hennis-Plasschaert touched on COVID-19, the federal budget, Erbil-Baghdad relations, elections, and human rights abuses, among other things.

With regard to the economy and the budget, she said that “modest - indeed, minimal - progress can be reported on the implementation of Iraq’s recent economic white paper,” arguing that the Iraqi population must see “tangible results” from economic progress rather than for money to simply disappear into corrupt enterprises.

Noting that the 2021 Federal Budget Law passed at the end of March, she said that continued problems between Erbil and Baghdad were preventing implementation.

“The devil is in the details, as ambiguous wording opens the door to divergent interpretations and mutual accusations of non-compliance,” she said.

“This bodes ill for the future of Baghdad-Erbil relations, and is also worrisome in the context of the upcoming elections: disagreements could easily be exploited to amplify divisions,” she continued before concluding her discussion of that subject on a pessimistic note.

“The all-important Baghdad-Erbil relationship urgently requires sustained, strategic dialogue as well as clear-cut implementation mechanisms. I have to admit: my experiences thus far do not lend themselves to optimism in this regard,” she said.

Hennis-Plasschaert called on all Iraqi stakeholders to uphold the integrity of the election process, warning that “the world is watching.”

Turning to human rights, she said that in across the country “accountability for serious crimes and human rights violations remains limited – very, very limited.”

As she has in previous briefings, she identified continued problems related to the rights situation in the Kurdistan Region.

“Also worrisome: the developments in the Kurdistan Region in the past year. These developments give rise to concern about the active curtailment of free expression,” she said.

“Critics of public authorities have risked not only intimidation, movement restrictions and arbitrary arrest, but some were also charged with defamation, and others, more recently, were prosecuted under national security laws,” she added.

During her briefing, she also addressed developments in Kirkuk, Sinjar, the importance of bringing arms under the control of the state, displacement, and broader regional dynamics.

(NRT Digital Media)