Human Rights and Democracy Report 2015 - Human Rights Priority Country update report: July to December 2016 - Iraq

The overall human rights situation in Iraq remained gravely concerning between July and December 2016. The government of Iraq (GoI), with the support of the Global Coalition to Counter Daesh, has made military progress against Daesh, but the humanitarian situation has continued to deteriorate with 118,398 (as of 30 December) displaced as a result of the operation to liberate Mosul.

Levels of terrorist violence and numbers of civilian casualties in Iraq have remained high since July. According to the UN at least 4,143 Iraqis were killed in acts of terrorism between 1 July and 31 December, with at least 5,826 injured. This does not include accurate figures for Anbar province, meaning that the total number could be higher.

Civilians in Daesh controlled areas continued to be subjected to severe human rights abuses. Where Daesh has been driven out of areas, a number of atrocities have been revealed, including violence against women and girls. A number of mass graves have been identified. On 7 November Iraqi Security Forces discovered a mass grave close to the village of Hammam al-Alil. Human Rights Watch described the grave as containing the bodies of at least 300 local police officers executed by Daesh. On 20 December Human Rights Watch issued a report describing Daesh deliberately targeting civilians in Eastern Mosul with mortar rounds and indiscriminate shooting after residents refused to flee to the West of the city.

Amnesty International reported on 18 October that paramilitary militia groups and government forces had also allegedly committed human rights violations – including torture, forced disappearance and extrajudicial killings – against those who had fled fighting in Fallujah and other areas. We have been clear that Iraqi forces must do everything possible to protect civilians and demonstrate that they are fighting on behalf of all Iraq’s communities. We welcome the commitment the GoI has shown in putting the protection of civilians at the top of their priorities, including in the campaign to liberate Mosul. We call on the GoI to conduct full, credible and transparent investigations into these allegations and to hold those responsible to account.

Human Rights Watch in a report published on 13 November described Kurdish Security Forces as having been involved in the unlawful demolition of buildings and homes in the Kirkuk and Ninewah Governorates. On 13 November, Amnesty International also reported destruction and forced displacement in Kirkuk. The Kurdistan regional Government (KRG) rejected these claims following the results of its own investigation that was established in April.

Iraq retains the death penalty and continues to carry out executions and issue death penalties. Little official information is provided by the government. However, according to media reports and our own estimates, at least 90 individuals were executed in Iraq during 2016 (excluding the Kurdistan Region). This includes 36 executions on 21 August for those convicted of the massacre of Iraqi military cadets at Camp Speicher in 2014. The UK continues to raise our opposition to the death penalty on a regular basis. The UK participated in an EU demarche on the Minister of Justice, the ambassador raised with the President and the Minister of Justice and the EU sent a letter on behalf of the EU and its Member States to the Minister of Justice reiterating our position on the death penalty.

The Kurdistan Region of Irag (KRI) has had an unofficial moratorium on the use of the death penalty since 2008. However, the moratorium does not apply to those convicted of terrorism charges. In addition, the death penalty was applied in August 2015 for a non-terrorism related offence and in December 2016 President Barzani reportedly assured the father of a child who was raped and murdered that the death penalty would be carried out against the man convicted.

Iraq remains one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. On 26 December, Afrah Al-Qaisi, a prominent Iraqi journalist who had been critical of political and administrative corruption in Iraq was abducted from her home in Baghdad (and later released).There are also concerns over freedom of expression in the KRI, particularly press freedom following the deaths of 2 journalists: the body of Shukri Zaynadin – from the Kurdish News Network – was found near Dohuk in December; and Widat Hussein Ali – from Roj News – was reportedly kidnapped and murdered in August. In addition, teachers were arrested and detained in Sulaymania and Halabja after striking over pay and working detentions, but were released the same day. The KRG has responded positively to some of the human rights allegations that were made. The KRG’s ‘High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports’ (HCERIR) – a governmental body to field, respond to and clarify concerns raised by the international community (NGOs and diplomatic missions) – has responded constructively to some of the allegations made.

On 28 October, Iraq was elected to the UN Human Rights Council for 2017-19. Their bid to the council focused on freedom of expression, women’s rights, and protecting human rights while fighting terrorism. We look forward to working with the GoI on areas of mutual interest, in particular working to end sexual violence against women and girls and promoting women’s full participation in political and economic life. Throughout this reporting period the UK has continued to support implementation of the Iraqi National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and provided funding for workshops to raise awareness and discuss how to tackle the stigma of sexual violence.

On 19 September, the Foreign Secretary, alongside the Foreign Ministers of Iraq and Belgium at the UN General Assembly, launched a global campaign to bring Daesh to justice. The campaign has 3 complementary objectives:

  • to support national and international justice efforts
  • to empower survivors of Daesh crimes
  • through this pursuit of justice, unite our communities – local, national and international

The campaign is about justice for all Daesh’s victims, including Sunni, Shia, Kurd and minority groups in Iraq.

The UK continues to support stabilisation efforts in Iraq in order to create the conditions to promote the voluntary, safe, dignified, and sustainable return of refugees and internally displaced persons, particularly in areas freed from Daesh. At the ‘Pledging Conference in Support of Iraq’ in July the UK pledged an additional £10.5 million towards stabilisation efforts including explosive hazard management and the UNDP’s Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilisation (FFIS). In September the UK announced an additional £40 million to support the humanitarian response to the Mosul operation.