UNAMI finds ‘serious human rights violations’ continue against Iraq protesters

By government and ‘third party’ groups
A demonstrator runs between burning tires during a curfew, two days after the nationwide anti-government protests turned violent, in Baghdad, Iraq October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili

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SULAIMANI — The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has released an updated report on human rights violations during the protests in central and southern Iraq, which found a pattern of excessive force, deliberate killings, abductions, and arbitrary killings carried out by government security forces and so-called “unknown third parties.”

The report, which covers November 5 to December 8, said that “that serious human rights violations and abuses continue to be committed, including violations of the rights to life, physical integrity, liberty and security of person, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression.”

UNAMI said that it had recorded 170 deaths and 2,264 injuries during the period, but was unable to confirm whether there were others because of interference from the government.

“These figures should be considered preliminary: contrary to practice in the past, the Government did not permit UNAMI to obtain official hospital statistical data concerning demonstrations related casualties or visit hospitals to interview victims,” the report noted.

Demonstration-related deaths and injuries occurred in Baghdad, Basra, Dhi Qar, Karbala, Missan, and Najaf.

UNAMI said that “the majority of the demonstrations remained peaceful,” but cited instances in Dhi Qar, Karbala, and Najaf where protesters attempted to burn down buildings associated with political parties and Iran.

Several instances were highlighted as particularly egregious violations, including the killing of 27 demonstrators in Najaf between November 27 and 30 by a militia affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the killing of 41 protesters in Nasiriya between November 28 and 29 by government security forces, and the killing of as many as 22 people near Tahrir Square in Baghdad on December 6 by an unknown group.

While it noted that there had been some minor instances of accountability for the violations, the report was at pains to outline the responsibilities of the state with regard to ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice.

The report noted that there were a number of violations of protesters rights while held in detention by the government, but welcomed the fact that none of those who had been arrested had been charged under the federal Anti-Terrorism Law.

UNAMI noted that there had been numerous credible allegations of violations by “unknown third parties” or militias against protesters and activists and said that “the Government must identify those groups responsible without delay and hold perpetrators accountable.”

“Bearing the primary responsibility for the protection of its people, the State must spare no effort to protect the peaceful protesters from violence by armed actors operating outside state control as well as those with formal and informal reporting lines within the state,” it added.

The report also detailed violations of freedom of expression, including a ban on social media platforms that had been in effect up until November 21 and the decision by the Committee for Media Communications (CMC) to close down eight satellite news channels, including NRT. In only one instance was the decision enforced and the station later resumed broadcasting.

Protesters took to the streets at the beginning of October to demand an end to corruption, better public services, and employment, but since then the unrest has become a more general uprising seeking the ouster of the Iraq's political establishment.

More than 400 people have been killed in Baghdad and provinces in the south and thousands of others have been injured.

(NRT Digital Media)