Press briefing note on Iraq

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:  Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva 
Date: 8 November 2019
Subject:  Iraq


We are gravely concerned about continuing reports of deaths and injuries resulting from the use of force by security forces against demonstrators, as well as deliberate killings by armed elements in Iraq. Between 1 October and last night, the Human Rights Office for the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq has documented 269 deaths in the context of demonstrations across the country. At least 8,000 others have reportedly been injured, including members of the Iraqi security forces. The exact casualty figures may be much higher. The majority of the casualties have resulted from the use of live ammunition by security forces and armed elements, described by many as private militia groups, as well as the unnecessary, disproportionate or improper use of less-lethal weapons such as tear gas.

Protests have continued this week in Baghdad, and deaths and injuries have been documented during demonstrations in Baghdad, Basra, Dhi Qar and Karbala. Just this morning, we received reports of five protesters killed during demonstrations in front of the Governorate building in Basra last night. On Wednesday this week, a civil society activist was shot and killed, and another injured by armed elements on the way home from a demonstration in Missan. We are also following up on reports of multiple arrests of demonstrators and activists, as well as bloggers and social media commentators, but there has been a lack of transparency, making these reports difficult to follow up on.

We are alarmed by reports of the abduction, by unknown perpetrators, of protesters or volunteers providing assistance in the demonstrations. These allegations should be promptly investigated, the whereabouts of those missing clarified and those responsible held to account.

We are disturbed by the statement by the High Judicial Council in Iraq that the Federal Anti-Terrorism Law would be applicable against those resorting to violence, sabotaging public property and using firearms against security forces – these are acts of terrorism that may be punishable by death.

We urge the Iraqi Government to ensure it complies with its obligation to protect the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly. This means taking preventive steps to protect demonstrators from armed elements, as well as issuing clear instructions to security forces to abide by international norms and standards on the use of force, including for example, an explicit prohibition on the shooting of tear gas canisters directly at demonstrators.

Immediate steps must be taken to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these killings, and justice and truth should be provided for the victims and their families. It is crucial that terrorism charges are not used against demonstrators.

We call on the authorities to take firm steps towards a meaningful dialogue in Iraq, to take stock of the many grievances and work with a broad range of actors towards a sustainable resolution to the many challenges Iraq faces. We stand ready to assist.

The two UN Iraq human rights reports on protests since October 1 are here: