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UN official urges stronger action to protect Iraqi civilians

7 June 2011

NEW YORK: At the end of his 10-day visit to Iraq, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, today urged the government to do more to protect civilians from violence.

“It is important that the government does all it can to ensure that civilians are protected from the ongoing violence, and that any person suspected of perpetrating acts of violence is held accountable according to the law,” he said.

Šimonović condemned the numerous cases of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and alleged torture that have been reported throughout Iraq.

“As a signal of the seriousness of its intent to tackle the problem, I urge the government to complete ratification of the Convention Against Torture as soon as possible,” he said.

“Respecting human rights, including while countering terrorism, is both a moral and practical thing to do. If the fight against terrorism makes martyrs of terrorists, it backfires,” he added.

He reiterated that torture is unequivocally prohibited under international law and cannot be condoned under any circumstances.

During talks with Deputy Prime Minister Roj Nouri Shawis and with the ministries of Defence and Justice, as well as with journalists and civil society representatives in Baghdad, Šimonović welcomed the government’s intention to develop a National Action Plan to implement the recommendations of the United Nations human rights mechanisms. He, however, raised concerns about the protection of civilians and the deteriorating human rights situation of women and religious and ethnic minorities, as well as attacks on freedom of expression.

Concerning the demonstrations that are taking place in various parts of Iraq, Šimonović noted that many of the protesters’ demands centre on legitimate calls for improved access to basic services, employment and better living conditions.

“Being criticized by the media or by protesters on the street is something that no government likes but as long as protests are peaceful and the government is democratic, they should lead to dialogue and not confrontation,” he said.

During his meetings in Erbil with Kurdistan’s President Massoud Barzani, Prime Minister Barham Salih and Speaker of Parliament Kamal Kirkuki, Šimonović raised concerns relating to the protection of women and freedom of expression. He proposed to the government to establish an independent national body to monitor respect for the human rights of all detainees.

“I was encouraged to see that the Prime Minister – a torture victim himself – strongly supported our proposal to establish such a body. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq stand ready to provide technical assistance for the establishment of such a body in line with international human rights standards,” he said.

Šimonović visited Dahouk prison in Kurdistan, including its Asayish Gishti wing where suspects of terrorist acts are detained.

“Detention conditions that I saw in this prison seemed acceptable,” he said. “However, during the initial investigation phase, people are detained longer than the law allows – which is not acceptable. The rule of law should be strictly enforced - otherwise, it is rendered meaningless.”

Because of extreme weather conditions, Šimonović was unable to undertake a planned visit to Camp New Iraq, also known as Camp Ashraf, where some 34 people were killed during a security operation on April 8.

“Investigations into the tragic events that took place there in April must be thorough and impartial,” he said. “Iraqi laws should be respected in Camp Ashraf, but so should the human rights of the residents. A long-term solution must be found recognizing the wishes of the Government, but also respecting each resident’s individual consent to be relocated or repatriated.”

ENDS

OHCHR Country Page – Iraq: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/IQIndex.aspx

For media inquiries, please contact Fred Kirungi in New York (kirungi@un.org; +1-917-367-3431) or Ravina Shamdasani in Geneva (+ 41 22 917 9310; rshamdasani@ohchr.org )

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