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Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities discusses the impact of the armed conflict on persons with disabilities in Iraq
11 September 2019
Committee on the Rights of Persons
11 September 2019
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Iraq on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. At the heart of the interactive dialogue were the challenges and consequences of the 18 years of war, armed conflict and terrorism that had ravaged Iraq and that had had a disproportionate impact on persons with disabilities.
Iraq had one of the largest populations of persons with disabilities in the world, Committee Experts said. The delegation of Iraq, led by the Minister of Justice, Farooq Ameen Othman, stressed that special attention was given to providing services to victims of conflict and terrorism to help them deal with the injuries, trauma and suffering caused by Daesh, whose crimes and abuses amounted to crimes against humanity. The children born to Daesh families were the victims, the delegation stressed, and reaffirmed their right to access health and educational services.
During the dialogue, the Experts commended Iraq for its legal framework which clearly prohibited disability-based discrimination and promoted the social integration of persons with disabilities. The law n°38 of 2013 on the Care of Persons with Disabilities and Special Needs, currently under revision, contained very good provisions but the problem was the lack of its implementation, they said.
Introducing the report of Iraq, Mr. Othman stressed that Iraq’s legal framework guaranteed the rights of persons with disabilities to education, work, housing, protection from violence, health, equality before the law, and participation in public and political life, among others. The law n°57 of 2015 provided for the compensation of victims of terrorism, who numbered thousands in all areas of the country. The social integration of persons with disabilities and their access to basic services was a priority for the Government of Iraq, the Minister stressed. Iraq had taken real steps towards the full and effective implementation of the Convention and the full integration of persons with disabilities in society, but those efforts took time, concluded the Minister.
Dindar Zebari, Chief of the Office of the Coordination of International Recommendations, Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, said that despite the challenging circumstances facing Kurdistan at the moment, its Government continued to strive to fulfil its human rights obligations. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Special Needs Act 22/2011 had been adopted and significant efforts were being deployed to provide access to basic services and protection to persons with disabilities. This was of particular importance given the security and humanitarian context marked by continuing ISIS terrorist activities.
At the end of the meeting, Mr. Othman said that Iraq was recovering from a long and bloody war but it nevertheless remained committed to all of its citizens, including persons with disabilities and special needs.
Imed Eddine Chaker, Committee Rapporteur for Iraq, concluded by urging Iraq to address the outstanding issues, which included full legal capacity for persons with disabilities, sign language – not only in courts but everywhere, and budgetary allocations for inclusive education and for employment.
Rosemary Kayess, Committee Vice-Chair, in her concluding remarks, said that as Iraq rebuilt after the loss and devastation it had experienced over the last decade, the Committee hoped that the constructive dialogue and the forthcoming concluding observations would help it in further implementing the Convention throughout its territory.
The delegation of Iraq was composed of the representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Care Authority of Persons with Disabilities, Council of Ministers, Committee to respond to international recommendations, and representatives of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Also present were members of the Permanent Mission of Iraq to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage . The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings will be available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/ .
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. this afternoon, to consider the combined second and third periodic report of El Salvador (CRPD/C/SLV/2-3 ).
The Committee is considering the initial report of Iraq (CRPD/C/IRQ/1 ).
Presentation of the Report
FAROOQ AMEEN OTHMAN, Minister of Justice of Iraq, introducing the report, said that Iraq’s accession to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2012 was the result of the intellectual evolution and reflection in Iraq following the comprehensive changes that had taken place in the spring of 2003. It had led to adding article 32 to the Constitution of Iraq that reaffirmed the importance of the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities. This was of particular importance given the context marked by ongoing wars, poor health care, poverty, and an extensive use of corporal punishment by oppressive regimes in the past.
The 2005 Constitution integrated the health perspective and sought to expand integration and social perspectives, while the law n°38, the Care of Persons with Disabilities and Special Needs Act, had been adopted in 2013, with the extensive participation of civil society organizations.
Women and girls with disabilities enjoyed special care, especially those in situations of displacement and migration. Iraq was working on changing the customs and traditions that prevented them from fully participating in the society and protecting them from violence and intersecting forms of discrimination.
The legal framework guaranteed the rights of persons with disabilities to education, work, housing, protection from violence, health, equality before the law, and participation in public and political life, among others. The law n°57 of 2015 provided for the compensation of victims of terrorism, who numbered thousands in all areas of the country. The social integration of persons with disabilities and their access to basic services was a priority for the Government of Iraq, the Minister stressed.
The commitment of the Government of Iraq to effectively implement its human rights obligations, including in relation to persons with disabilities, was reflected in the Government Programme 2018-2022. The Iraq Development Vision 2030 was based on the Sustainable Development Goals and it strove to provide to its citizens better standards of living, including through the adoption of the health insurance system. Efforts were also being directed to support income-generation projects, employment, mine clearance, and the empowerment of women.
Iraq had been faced with a number of challenges, including ISIS and terrorist networks and groups. Important steps had been taken to build institutions, such as the national institution that would be responsible for the human rights of persons with disabilities. The High Independent Human Rights Commission had been created as the national human rights institution, and it cared for persons with disabilities. There were also other competent institutions and units within the Ministry of Health and Education. The Human Rights Directorate in the Ministry of Justice also played a role. Full freedom was provided to civil society to ensure that they could work on this file, and they played a role of monitoring and oversight. The budget of the Directorate of Persons with Disabilities had been doubled, and it would supervise 11 centres for diverse rehabilitiation. This Directorate covered 100,000 persons with disabilities. Before coming to Geneva, a Director-General for persons with disabilities had been chosen.
Iraq had taken real steps towards the full and effective implementation of the Convention and the full integration of persons with disabilities in society. However, these efforts took time.
DINDAR ZEBARI, Chief of the Office of the Coordination of International Recommendations, Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, said that despite the challenging circumstances facing Kurdistan at the moment, its Government continued to strive to fulfil its human rights obligations. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Special Needs Act 22/2011 had been adopted and significant efforts were being deployed to provide access to basic services and protection to persons with disabilities. This was of particular importance given the security and humanitarian context marked by continuing ISIS terrorist activities.
In 2018, there had been 95,500 persons with disabilities who received monthly disability benefits, while in 2002, almost 9,000 children with disabilities had been enrolled in primary and secondary schools. The school curricula integrated tolerance for all, including persons with disabilities. One of the measures to promote the employment of persons with disabilities was a five per cent quota.
Questions from the Experts
IMED EDDINE CHAKER, Committee Rapporteur for Iraq, recognized the challenges that Iraqis and in particular persons with disabilities faced that arose from the wars that ravaged the country. As a consequence, Iraq had one of the largest populations of persons with disabilities in the world.
The Rapporteur took positive note of the Iraqi legislation which prohibited discrimination on the grounds of disability and promoted the social integration of persons with disabilities, and urged it to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled.
On the legal framework, the Rapporteur said that the Constitution, in its article 18, provided for the equality of all before the law, which meant that the provisions of the Civil Code that limited legal capacity should be amended to ensure its alignment with the Constitution and the Convention. Furthermore, Iraq should develop a plan for the accelerated implementation of the law on the protection of women with disabilities from violence.
Other Experts remarked that the law n°38 of 2013 on the Care of Persons with Disabilities and Special Needs, which was currently under revision, contained very good provisions; the problem was the lack of its implementation due to the absence of implementing regulations. In the ongoing revision of this law, how would Iraq address those lacunae?
What measures were being taken to implement a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy that would be applicable on all the laws? How was redress provided for discrimination on grounds of disability?
The Experts commended the efforts of the commission for the care of persons with disabilities and special needs to promote the participation and social inclusion of persons with disabilities and on raising awareness on disability issues.
Over the past 18 years marked by armed conflict and attacks, thousands of people had gone missing, Experts remarked and asked about the progress made in search efforts. What care and protection services were provided to missing persons’ children with disabilities?
The delegation was asked about the efforts to protect women and girls with disabilities from violence and specifically about measures contained in the project with the World Bank on emergency support to women with disabilities.
Responses by the Delegation
In response to questions raised on Iraq’s legal framework for the protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, the delegation explained that Iraq was committed to establishing a system and mechanism for individual communications, including those that required the ratification of international treaties. The High Independent Human Rights Commission was mandated with receiving individual complaints.
Civil society organizations and representative organizations of persons with disabilities were involved in the revision of the Law 38 of 2013 on the Care of Person with Disabilities and Special Needs. The aim of such an extensive consultation was to correct all the mistakes that had been observed in the working of the law. The proposed amendments had been drafted in record time and submitted to the State Council, which would draft the final amendment, send it to the Council of Ministers for approval, before submitting it to Parliament for adoption.
The revised law would set up a board in charge of its implementation, and enable more meaningful participation of civil society organizations. It placed an obligation on the State to provide free legal aid to persons with disabilities, and provided for the establishment of a commission in charge of awareness raising on the rights of persons with disabilities, among other provisions.
Iraq was fully committed to strengthening the legal protection of all children, and children with disabilities in particular. The bill on the rights of the child was now in a very advanced stage and would encompass the child care law and child protection law in one law. The bill was today in the State Council which was making sure it was in line with the country’s laws, following which it would pass through the Council of Ministers and then be submitted to Parliament for enactment.
The bill on protection from domestic violence was being examined by Parliament.
The delegation stressed that a person with disabilities had the right to full legal capacity and explained that there were certain conditions, for example when a person was unable to discharge their duties. In such cases, it should not be considered that a person was stripped of his or her legal capacity.
Disability-based discrimination was prohibited and all violations could be reported to the courts and other relevant bodies. Those procedures were new to the Iraqi society and it would take time for persons with disabilities to learn about all the venues and remedies that were open to them in case of the violation of their rights.
All ministries in the Government of Iraq were under the obligation to respect the five per cent employment quota for persons with disabilities; those which failed to do so were held accountable.
Health services to persons with disabilities were being provided not only through specialized rehabilitation and care centres which saw to the provision of artificial limbs, but also through some 7,000 health care centres and hospitals that could be found in every part of the country. Psychosocial support and services were being provided through the rehabilitation centres. The provision of health care services was coordinated by the Ministry of Health which also collated all data and statistics on persons with disabilities that were collected by health structures. At the moment, the Ministry had electronic data and records on 75,000 persons with disabilities.
In particular focus was the Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality and especially the fight against violence against women and girls with disabilities. Awareness raising campaigns for women with disabilities were being implemented and hotlines for victims of violence had been established. The strategy on preventing gender-based violence was in place.
The media in Iraq was independent and it operated in the framework of the law. The media and telecommunication authority ensured that the media operated in line with the Constitution and discouraged negative attitudes and prejudices against persons with disabilities. The law on persons with disabilities prohibited the abuse of persons with disabilities in the media and prescribed criminal sanctions for such behaviour.
The first poverty eradication strategy addressed the period 2010-2014 during which the poverty rate had been reduced from 22 per cent in 2007 to 19 per cent in 2012 and to 15 per cent in 2015. Poverty rates had spiked due to terrorist activities of Daesh and the decline in oil revenues, therefore the second poverty eradication strategy 2018-2022 had been put in place. The Iraqi Vision 2030 encompassed the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Questions from the Experts
There was a large number of internally displaced persons in Iraq, between 2 million and 4 million, Committee Experts said, noting that there was no reliable information about the proportion of those with disabilities. What measures were in place to protect and assist internally displaced persons, especially women and those with disabilities, in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement?
Experts urged Iraq to remove from the books all provisions that allowed for forced detention and treatment of persons with disabilities and asked about the measures taken by the Government to prevent and eliminate harmful practices against persons with disabilities, such as being prevented from leaving their homes and even being chained to their beds.
What was being done to remove discriminatory provisions of the 1951 Civil Code and ensure that persons with intellectual disabilities enjoyed legal capacity on an equal footing with others in the society and to put in place a mechanism for supported decision-making?
In Iraq, the Experts continued, armed conflict, war and terrorism had prevailed since 2003, with a disproportionate impact on persons with disabilities. Was the Government considering the adoption of a national strategy on disaster risk reduction and management, in line with the Sendai framework, which would be accessibility and disability inclusive?
At the end of 2018, the United Nations Refugee Agency had noted that there were 47,500 stateless persons living in Iraq, the Experts noted, and asked the delegation to explain the registration procedure for all children born in Iraq, especially for those with disabilities, regardless of the status of their parents.
IMED EDDINE CHAKER, Committee Rapporteur for Iraq, stressed the need to amend the Civil Code, in particular the provisions on legal capacity which reinforced discriminatory attitudes against persons with disabilities. The Rapporteur urged Iraq to ensure full protection of all internally displaced persons with disabilities living in camps and ensure that they enjoyed full legal capacity.
Another Expert asked when Iraq would ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which would enable it to establish a national prevention mechanism for monitoring places of detention and deprivation of liberty, including those where persons with disabilities were being held.
Responses by the Delegation
A representative of the Kurdistan region said that the Government had recently amended the law on privileges for persons with disabilities and that financial support of five million Iraqi dinars was being provided to persons with disabilities who married.
Special education was being provided to persons with disabilities and persons with special needs; the education for this group was in place and the educational curriculum had been developed and included in mainstream education. The Ministry of Education was taking steps to integrate children with disabilities in mainstream education, including training of assistant teachers to support students with disabilities. The Ministry was also in the process of putting in place an electronic record system for all students, including those with disabilities.
The unit for the fight against domestic violence had been established, while the unit for women also monitored the implementation of relevant laws and strategies for the advancement of the status of women. Parliament had passed the law on the rights of children which had been developed in cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Health services in the Kurdistan region were being provided though 24 medical facilities staffed with 544 medical personnel. More than 10,000 persons in the Kurdistan region had been disabled by the recent wars in Iraq, including 90 who worked in demining.
Another delegate said that the law granted persons with disabilities equal footing before the courts as plaintiffs and defendants. With regard to the use of what the Committee termed “derogatory terms” - idiocy, insanity, imbecile and others - the delegate said those terms were prevalent throughout Muslim countries because they were predicated on the Sharia and were cited in the Quran. Tampering with those terms could lead to a court case for violating the Constitution which stipulated that Iraq was a country whose legislation was based on Islam, he stressed.
A draft bill on the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty was currently before Parliament and the delegation was confident that it would be approved. As for the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, the delegation said that the ratification of some international treaties required Iraq to put in place specific institutions and institutional measures. Iraq was in the process of institutional development and was studying the accession to this instrument that it would join once it was ready to abide by its provisions.
People still felt shame for having a person with disabilities in their family, thus before ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Iraq had worked on raising awareness about disability issues in an effort to change the stereotypes that were based on traditions and customs. The Penal Code sanctioned stereotypes that represented a crime or an offence, while relevant complaints could be submitted to the Human Rights Commission and the public authorities.
Turning to the situation of internally displaced persons with disabilities, the delegation said that a taskforce composed on executives of all concerned parties had been set up and had adopted the strategy for the assistance to internally displaced persons 2014-2018. It had been developed in partnership with the United Nations Refugee Agency, the European Union and non-governmental organizations, and had been approved by the Council of Ministers. The strategy also contained a specific timetable for return, scheduled to be completed in two years.
A centre for the support of internally displaced persons had been set up: it provided dignified assistance to persons with disabilities. There were monitoring mechanisms in camps for internally displaced persons to reduce violence against women and children, who also had appropriate channels to report complaints.
In 2018, the Committee for the Fight against Human Trafficking had been established and it had a presence in each governorate. It was responsible for the full implementation of the 2012 law on human trafficking, which prohibited any sexual exploitation of persons with disabilities. The law on domestic violence prohibited any violence against persons with disabilities – physical, intellectual, or economic. The national strategy for the fight against violence against women paid special attention to women and girls with disabilities; it addressed all forms of gender-based violence, including sexual harassment.
New guidelines on prosthesis and artificial limbs for children had been adopted, which prescribed a change every six months. The local production of 25,000 artificial limbs and supports annually covered 25 to 30 per cent of the needs. The Government was able to cover all the needs in terms of assistance, aid and technology.
The law on national security of 2005 had not been implemented because the country had not experienced a kind of emergency that would trigger its implementation. The Emergency Team, composed of representatives of different ministries, was directly managing those responses to emergencies such as floods, fires, and the like. The security forces were also mobilized in this response. The Army led the response to emergency situations arising from war and anti-terrorist activities, as had recently been the case during the battle for Mosul, whereby the Army was responsible for the protection and evacuation of the population, including persons with disabilities.
The occupation of some of the areas of Iraq by Daesh in 2014 had triggered the massive displacement of some three million people, including 750,000 children. Among those were children with disabilities. The Government, in cooperation with various international and national partners, was providing protection and assistance to those populations, including in the process of return. The Government was dealing with the injuries, trauma and suffering caused by Daesh, whose crimes and abuses amounted to crimes against humanity.
The delegation noted that some 43,000 children born in the Daesh-controlled territories did not have their birth registered and were mostly stateless. There were also children fathered by those whose identity was unknown or who were known only by their nom de guerre. Those children were the victims, the delegation stressed and added that the Government was working on providing them with health and educational services, including services to deal with trauma.
Questions from the Experts
A Committee Expert addressed the right to information and asked about the intentions to increase the number of sign language interpreters. What was being done to assist children with severe hearing impairments and how were deaf children included in mainstream education? Was sign language legally recognized and protected as a language of communication?
How were health facilities accessible and how could persons with disabilities communicate with health staff?
The delegation was asked about the social protection of the three million displaced persons, the situation of women with disabilities who were victims of terrorism and terrorist abuses, and the efforts to reduce poverty among persons with disabilities, especially in rural areas.
The Physician Code of Conduct still allowed medical experiments, which the Convention saw as forms of torture, unless a free and informed consent was provided. What would be done to bring this Code in line with the Convention?
DANLAMI UMARU BASHARU, Committee Chairperson, asked about measures the Government was taking to ensure the gainful employment of persons with disabilities in public and private sectors, including the prohibition of a medical approach in providing employment to persons with disabilities.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that over 1.35 million people were included in the social protection scheme of the Ministry of Planning. The Government was working on increasing both the subsidies provided to the beneficiaries of the scheme as well as the coverage – it was striving to reach two million people next year.
Iraqi athletes with disabilities were very successful regionally and internationally, in fencing, athletics, basketball, volleyball, football, archery, and other disciplines. Over the past three years, they had won 81 gold medals, 101 silver medals, and 86 bronze medals, thus significantly surpassing athletes without disabilities.
Iraq maintained a five per cent quota for the employment of persons with disabilities. The fluctuating oil prices, on which Iraq largely depended, reduced employment opportunities in the public sector which also affected the employment of persons with disabilities. The employment rate of this population group currently stood at 11 per cent, way above the five per cent quota. In the framework of the return process, the Government had provided concessional loans to 350 women with disabilities as well as loans for income generation activities.
In the Kurdistan region, the High Council for Women Affairs had been set up together with six offices for combatting violence against women. A law had been enacted which reserved a 30 per cent quota for the political participation of women; today, women represented 33 per cent of Members of Parliament.
There were 39 camps for internally displaced persons and refugees in Kurdistan, where most of the displaced religious minorities from Iraq – Yazidis for example – had been accommodated. Since 2014, Kurdistan had hosted more than one million persons displaced from various parts of Iraq. More than 240,000 Syrian refugees also lived in the camps, including 34,000 students.
On employment, the delegate from Kurdistan said that more than 12,000 persons with disabilities had been employed in the public sector. An anti-discrimination strategy that applied throughout the region had been adopted, while e-learning projects, available online to all students, had been developed together with the United Nations Children’s Fund. Some 4,000 schools were linked up by this e-learning platform.
In line with the law on persons with disabilities and the Constitution, the Government had the duty to provide children with disabilities with comprehensive social protection and guarantee the realization of their right to education together with their peers. There were different classes for children with disabilities as well as special courses from stage 1 to 4, while a kindergarten for children with disabilities had been opened. There were 1,325 schools with special classes for children with disabilities, of which 107 were in rural areas.
Some 750,000 children had been displaced by Daesh in 2014 and 2015. Most of those areas had been liberated and a great majority of the three million internally displaced persons had been able to return. They enjoyed the necessary assistance, regardless of their place of return.
The participation in political and public life for all – including persons with disabilities - was enshrined in the Constitution. The Electoral Commission endeavoured to ensure accessibility to polling stations.
FAROOQ AMEEN OTHMAN, Minister of Justice of Iraq, in his concluding remarks, reiterated his delegation’s commitment to working with the Committee in full transparency and cooperation. Iraq would continue to assess the existing laws and enact new ones for the benefit of persons with disabilities, as well as strengthen the link with civil society organizations. The country was recovering from a long and bloody war but it nevertheless remained committed to all of its citizens, including persons with disabilities and special needs, the Minister concluded.
IMED EDDINE CHAKER, Committee Rapporteur for Iraq, for his part, congratulated Iraq for producing the initial report in a timely manner and for important changes that it had initiated over a short time. The Rapporteur highlighted the outstanding issues, which included full legal capacity for persons with disabilities, sign language – not only in courts but everywhere, and budgetary allocations for inclusive education and for employment.
ROSEMARY KAYESS, Committee Vice-Chair, in her concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for their participation in this constructive dialogue and said that words like “normal and abnormal” were not appropriate terminology. “We’re all part of the human family and a reflection of human diversity as outlined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” the Vice-Chair stressed. As Iraq rebuilt after the loss and devastation it had experienced over the last decade, the Committee hoped that the constructive dialogue and the forthcoming concluding observations would help it in further implementing the Convention throughout its territory.