Iraq: Human Rights Council Formulates 229 Recommendations to Address Serious Human Rights Abuses in the Country

On 3 November 2014, Iraq's second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was held at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. This process aims to assess, every four years, the human rights record of each United Nations' Member State by the Human Rights Council (HRC). Since its first UPR, Iraq's human rights situation has deteriorated as a result of the civil war and internal divisions following the US occupation, and coupled to the regional turmoil. Iraq's weak institutions are still unable to prevent the abuse of power and to hold perpetrators of serious human rights abuses to account. Sustained efforts will need to be made by the Iraqi authorities to address the increase in human rights violations.

The official Iraqi delegation, headed by Dr Abdulkareem Abdulah Shallal Al Janabi, Deputy Minister for Human Rights, presented Iraq's national report to the HRC. Dr Al Janabi highlighted the country's major achievements since its last review in 2009, stating that, not only the elections held in 2013 and 2014 had been carried out with the participation of minority groups, but that Iraq had also ratified several human rights treaties, including the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2010 and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2011. He however failed to explain the absence of measures taken, in law and fact, to eradicate these widespread practices

Al Janabi also pointed out to the recent establishment of two human rights mechanisms to implement their new Human Rights Plan in the form of a Human Rights Court and a new mechanism for directing complaints from the High Commission for Human Rights to the Chief Public Prosecutor. As it was expected, the Iraqi delegation focused much of its attention on the threat of the Islamic State (IS) which has led to a rising number of civilian casualties and internally displaced persons (IDPs) and carried out attacks on minority groups, including on women and children. This fight against terrorism was used as a justification for a number of human rights violations occurring in the country.

The Iraqi delegation's presentation was followed by an interactive dialogue with other UN Member States. Several States raised concerns about Iraq's general human rights situation, calling for the strengthening of its national human rights bodies, a more effective protection of women and minorities, and a genuine respect for freedom of expression.

Iraq was also reminded of its obligation to respect human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL) in their fight against IS, with Switzerland, Turkey and the United States calling on Iraq to ensure accountability for the exactions committed by State-controlled militias and other non-State armed groups. In order to ensure that violations by all actors are duly investigated and punished, a large number of Sates – Serbia, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Slovakia, Uruguay, Guatemala – called upon Iraq to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Alkarama's core recommendations, presented in its report submitted to the HRC, and recently highlighted during two briefing sessions, were endorsed by a number of State delegations:

• Several States, including Norway, Austria, Spain and the Czech Republic, recommended Iraq to investigate cases of torture and called for the much-needed reform of the judiciary in order to put an end to this practice and other similar abuses; Paraguay added that evidence based on confessions extracted under torture should not be admitted in judicial proceedings; and several States asked Iraq to consider ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention on Torture (OPCAT) and to extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel inhuman and degrading treatment (SRT).

• The Netherlands called on Iraq to put an end to the widespread practice of enforced disappearance.

• Switzerland deplored the continuing violations of the right to a fair trial, a statement supported by Norway and the United Kingdom, which called upon Iraq to ensure the full respect of the rights of due process, whilst other States such as Germany expressed strong concerns about conditions of detention.

• Despite the Iraqi delegation's insistence on the fact that, "given the circumstances, abolishing death penalty [called] for a balance between the existing attitude and the situation that [prevailed]," in order to justify the authorities' failure to abolish the capital punishment, the majority of States – including Spain, Australia, Italy, Namibia, Paraguay, Mexico, Turkey, Greece, France, the UK, Montenegro, Slovenia, Belgium and Portugal – supported Alkarama's call for a moratorium on executions in view of its complete abolition.

Finally, States including Norway, Switzerland and Brazil recalled that human rights must be respected even in times of crises and that the fight against terrorism could not be used as an excuse for human rights abuses. Norway stressed that the implementation of human rights should in fact be seen as a priority for Iraq's much-needed stability and reconciliation, in particular in view of the atrocities committed by IS.

Iraq is to provide a response to the 229 recommendations formulated by UN Member States by the HRC's 28th session in March 2015. Hoping that Iraq accepts all recommendations without exception, Alkarama will continue to monitor the general human rights situation in Iraq, and in particular the implementation of the recommendations made with regards to the prohibition of torture and enforced disappearances, the right to fair trial, and the abolition of the death penalty.

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