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Iraq: Bold steps needed to give hope to ethnic and religious groups facing an uncertain future

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BAGHDAD / GENEVA (8 March 2016): The United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, today urged the Government of Iraq to take rapid and concrete steps to guarantee the future of some of the country’s most threatened and marginalized ethnic and religious groups who feel that their very existence in the country is threatened.

“Due to years of marginalization, conflict, ethnic and religious tensions, and recent terrorism, communities seem to have lost trust in each other and in the Government. This trust needs to be re-built in order to keep Iraq’s unique cultural heritage and diversity,” said the UN expert at the end of her first official visit* to the country from 27 February to 7 March 2016.
 
Ms. Izsák-Ndiaye visited Iraq in order to assess the situation of communities including the Baha’i, Christians, Faili Kurds, Kaka’i, Sabian Mandaeans, Shabak, Turkmen, Yezidis and Zoroastrians, who constitute minority or ‘component’ groups in the country. She visited Baghdad, Erbil and Dohuk, and their surroundings, including camps for internally displaced persons.

“While all communities have suffered in Iraq’s recent history and under the criminal brutality of ‘Daesh’ (ISIL), many smaller ethnic and religious groups have borne the brunt of violence and atrocities and thousands have been displaced from their homes. They feel vulnerable and abandoned and many are questioning their continued existence in the country,” she stated.

The Special Rapporteur spoke directly to community leaders who described the impact of violence and displacement on their communities. She listened to stories of starvation, humiliation and sexual violence of Yezidi women who had been held captive by ‘Daesh’.

“It is truly heartrending that in the cradle of civilization, in the 21st century, I hear testimonies of targeted killings, slavery, and of a marketplace selling and buying women for as much as the price of a pack of cigarettes,” Ms. Izsák-Ndiaye said. “The perpetrators must be brought to justice to bring the immense suffering of these vulnerable communities to an end.”

She urged concerted efforts to achieve the liberation of hundreds of women and girls still under captivity. She also stressed the need for the protection of mass graves and other evidence that may prove atrocity crimes, for which perpetrators should be tried by an appropriate court of law.
 
The UN expert acknowledged that the clear and immediate danger posed by ‘Daesh’ must be confronted as a high priority of the Government. However, she highlighted that for many minority groups the challenges that they face did not begin with it, and will not end with its defeat. “Long-standing societal discrimination and marginalization of ethnic and religious groups must be more comprehensively acknowledged and confronted,” the expert stated.

“A clear message must be sent to all of Iraq’s diverse communities that they do have a future in Iraq. That message must come in the form of legal, policy and institutional protection frameworks with immediate and concrete measures to ensure their security, dignity, rights and equality,” she underscored.

The Special Rapporteur voiced her concern for Shia and Sunni communities who find themselves in different locations where they are also under threat, displaced or face violation of their human rights.

Ms. Izsák-Ndiaye called for stronger measures to promote inclusion and social cohesion that has been damaged by recent violence and by years of historic marginalization of some groups on the grounds of their identity. “Efforts to forge a more inclusive government must include meaningful representation of smaller and historically marginalized ethnic and religious groups,” she said.

The Special Rapporteur expressed concern about insufficient international interest and dwindling resources to meet the immense needs in Iraq. She urged the international community to continue its support over the long-term and to give greater attention to the situation and needs of minorities, including support to humanitarian assistance, to achieve return, reconstruction, sustainable solutions and social cohesion.

The human rights expert, who visited the country at the invitation of the Iraqi authorities, thanked the Government of Iraq for its cooperation with her mandate. 

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=17157&LangID=E  

ENDS

Ms. Rita Izsák-Ndiaye (Hungary) was appointed as Independent Expert on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2011 and subsequently her mandate was renewed as Special Rapporteur on minority issues in March 2014. She is tasked by the UN Human Rights Council, to promote the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, among other things.  Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/SRMinorities/Pages/SRminorityissuesIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Check the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/Minorities.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Iraq: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/IQIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Margarita Lema (+41 22 917 9248 / mlematome@ohchr.org), Mr. Graham Fox (+41 22 917 9640 / gfox@ohchr.org) or write to  minorityissues@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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