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UN: Accountability For Human Rights Violations During Peaceful Protests Is Key

Despite promising steps by the current Government of Iraq concerning human rights violations and abuses committed in the context of recent demonstrations, accountability remains elusive, according to a UN report released on Thursday.

The report details actions and omissions in handling the massive protests that took place between October 2019 and April 2020, highlights the human rights violations and abuses, calls for immediate action to achieve justice, recommends protection measures for demonstrators and urges redress for victims.

“Of great concern is the continued targeting and killing of activists and human rights defenders. This is not random violence but a deliberate silencing of peaceful voices, coupled with the total impunity enjoyed by perpetrators,” said the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert. “Without accountability, the crimes committed will remain mere statistics, numbers on a page. This report sheds light on the suffering, and provides concrete recommendations to help rebuild public trust”, she added.

The Human Rights Office of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) based its report on more than 900 interviews with victims and their relatives, witnesses, journalists, and civic and political activists. It documents that at least 487 people were killed and 7,715 injured during the protests, a majority of them young men.

The report highlights a pattern of unnecessary and excessive force, including live ammunition, when dealing with protesters.

Another worrying development were attacks by so-called unidentified armed actors as well as abductions.

Approximately 3,000 demonstrators were detained, adding concerns about arbitrary detentions and ill-treatment.

The right to freedom of expression was also severely curtailed, with frequent Internet blackouts, news outlets raided, journalists assaulted, harassed and arbitrarily detained, their material confiscated or deleted.

“People were killed, injured, tortured and mistreated, kidnapped, disappeared, arbitrarily detained, for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. This is unacceptable. Everyone has the right to peacefully demonstrate and to publicly express their frustration at not being able to provide for themselves and their families,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

Since taking office in May, the current government has taken welcome steps to establish an independent investigative body and offer some redress for the victims and their families, but much more needs to be done.

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