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UN experts call on Iraq to investigate attacks on women human rights defenders

GENEVA (2 October 2020) – Iraq must immediately investigate the killing and attempted killing of two women human rights defenders and make it safe for everyone who stand up for human rights in the country, UN human rights experts* said today.

“It is outrageous that women in Iraq have to risk or lose their life to defend human rights,” they said. “The impunity that allows these crimes to continue must end. We urge the Iraqi government to conduct prompt, independent and impartial investigations on the attacks against these human rights defenders and bring those responsible to justice according to international standards.” 

The two women human rights defenders led women’s marches within the protest movement against corruption and unemployment that began in 2018 in the southern city of Basra. On 17 August 2020, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a car carrying Lodya Remon Albarti, a defender of women’s and environmental rights, who had previously been subjected to a long smear campaign that forced her to flee the city for her safety.  She survived the shooting, but sustained leg injuries. Since the attempted killing, the human rights defender has been the target of threats and slander online.

Two days later, Riham Yaqoub, a doctor and defender who also advocated for the rights of women to exercise in public and use sports facilities was killed by two unidentified gunmen riding a scooter as she drove through the centre of Basra.

“Clearly the Iraqi government has little regard for the lives of human rights defenders,” the UN experts said. “Both of these attacks were entirely preventable. Both women had received threats in the past and the State had done nothing to keep them safe.”

Although all human rights defenders in Iraq face serious risks, the experts said women face multi-layered threats.  

“Women are a leading force in the human rights community but – as in many countries – they face additional threats simply because they are women,” the experts said. “In Iraq, against a harsh backdrop of war and insecurity, women human rights defenders face prejudice, exclusion by society and by political leaders, as well as physical attacks, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and even death.” 

“We also call on the Government to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders in Iraq.” 


* The UN experts: Mary LawlorSpecial Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;  Elizabeth Broderick (Chair),  Melissa Upreti (Vice Chair), Alda Facio, Meskerem Geset Techane, Ivana Radačić, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups 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.
For more information and media requests, please contact Adriana Zarraluqui (+41 22 917 9965 / azarraluqui@ohchr.org) or write to defenders@ohchr.org. 

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / rrosariodesouza@ohchr.org), Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 22 917 7578 / jlaurence@ohchr.org) and Kitty McKinsey (kmckinsey@ohchr.org)

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter@UN_SPExperts.

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