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COMMITTEE ON THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION REVIEWS THE SITUATION IN IRAQ

30 November 2018

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined twenty-second to twenty-fifth periodic report of Iraq on measures taken to implement the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Introducing the report, Hussein Al-Zuhairi, Deputy Minister of Justice of Iraq, recalled heinous crimes that ISIS had committed against Iraqi people and ethnic and religious minorities such as Christians, Turkmens, Sabeans, and Yazidis, and said that measures to address those violations included investigations and court proceedings against the perpetrators as well as compensation for those affected by the conflict.  Following the successful parliamentary and general elections in May 2018, the national unity government representing all components of the Iraqi society had been set up to provide services and rights to citizens and strengthen freedoms, institutions and civil society.  Iraq was in the midst of re-examining its legislation to ensure its conformity with human rights standards, and while a legislative process was underway to reach a compromise agreement for a draft law on the protection of diversity and prevention of discrimination, many laws related to
the prevention of racial discrimination, hate speech, racist and terrorist activities, and sectarian reprisals had been enacted.  The Kurdistan Region Law (5) of 2015 preserved the rights of the national components and religious and sectarian groups, Mr. Al-Zuhari said, stressing that the relationship between the central Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government was based on mutual respect, cooperation and confidence-building.

Dindar Zebari, Representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government, added that the Kurdistan Regional Government was the Government of Iraq’s active partner not only in hosting many displaced persons but also in defeating and liberating the northern areas of the country.  Since the start of the regional self-government, it was leading in terms of passing legislation for the wellbeing and protection of minorities - Yazidis, Christians, Turkmens, and others - who still largely remained in the region.
 
At the beginning of the dialogue, Committee Experts welcomed the setting up of the Reconciliation Committee and wished Iraq all the best on a difficult path towards national reconciliation.  They took positive note of the Human Rights Unit of the Ministry of Education, stressing that mainstreaming of human rights education in curricula and textbooks would promote the values of tolerance and non-discrimination among Iraqi youth.  While the legislative steps to protect minorities were a positive development, the constitutional and legislative framework lacked sufficient reference to Iraq’s international legal obligations, raising the question about the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, including by courts.  The Experts asked about the efforts to find out the fate of those disappeared in Daesh-controlled territories, mainly minorities such as Yezidis, and provide reparations to victims, and to explain what was being done to resolve the challenge of contested territories.  Experts raised concern about historic and structural discrimination against groups such as the black Iraqis, or people of Zanj heritage, Roma and the Marsh Arabs, as well as ethnically and racially motivated violence against refugees.  What was the role of civil society in preventing racial discrimination and promoting tolerance, national cohesion and national identity, and was the cultural and linguistic diversity of the country reflected in the school curricula?

Alexei Avtonomov, Committee Rapporteur for Iraq, concluded by commending the very sincere and honest exchange and reiterated that the Committee aimed to provide advice and helpful recommendations, and so help Iraq on its path of recovery from the conflict.

Mr. Al-Zuhairi, in his concluding remarks, said that Iraq was working to prohibit any act of reprisals, and now had a legal structure in place to ensure the respect for human rights.  

Noureddine Amir, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for this important exchange which would contribute to upholding the principles of non-discrimination and justice.

The delegation of Iraq consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Interior, Kurdistan Regional Government, Endowments of the Christian, and the Permanent Mission of Iraq to the United Nations Office at Geneva. 


The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 3 December at 10 a.m. to meet with non-governmental organizations from the Republic of Korea, Albania, and Norway whose reports will be reviewed by the Committee next week.


Report

The Committee has before it the combined twenty-second to twenty-fifth periodic report of Iraq (CERD/C/IRQ/22-25).

Presentation of the Report

HUSSEIN AL-ZUHAIRI, Deputy Minister of Justice of Iraq, at the outset recalled that the date of Iraq’s last review by this Committee had coincided with a terrorist attack on the country by ISIS which had committed heinous crimes against Iraqi people and ethnic and religious minorities such as Christians, Turkmens, Sabeans, and Yazidis which amounted to crimes against humanity.  Those crimes included murder and torture, displacement, destruction of heritage and religious monuments, slavery and opening of slave markets, forced displacement, conversion from one religion to another, the use of children and women as suicide bombers, and sexual slavery of the Yazidis and other minority women.  A range of measures had been taken to address the ISIS violations against civilians, Mr. Al-Zuhari said, mentioning in particular the independent investigation of serious human rights violations and court proceedings against the perpetrators, including those accused of committing the massacre of Speicher.  Equally, the allegations of violations committed by the security forces during the liberation of Iraqi cities were being dealt with by competent courts.  To date, the judiciary had considered some 5,000 cases concerning crimes that terrorists had committed against Yazidi women, and 74 billion Iraqi dinars had been disbursed as compensation to those affected by the conflict in 2015.

The liberation of areas held by ISIS, followed by the efforts to restore services and remove mines and unexploded projectiles had significantly contributed to the return of internally displaced persons to their places of origin, and the Government was implementing important programmes to provide internally displaced persons living in camps with water, food, fuel and health and education services.  Following the successful parliamentary and general elections in May 2018, in which over 10 million people had voted, both inside the country and abroad, the national unity government representing all components of the Iraqi society had been set up.  It had adopted an approach to governance based on the provision of services and rights to citizens, and strengthening of freedoms, institutions and civil society. 

The report to the Committee had been prepared by a specialized sub-committee composed of various Iraqi institutions of the federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, and in cooperation with the High Commission for Human Rights and civil society, and had been approved by the Council of Ministers.  The High Commission for Human Rights was an independent monitoring body established in 2008, which could receive complaints of human rights violations, and it was operating in most parts of Iraq.  Iraq was in the midst of re-examining its legislation to ensure its conformity with human rights standards, the Deputy Minister said, adding that the legislative process was underway to reach a compromise agreement for a draft law on the protection of diversity and prevention of discrimination.  This did not prevent the enactment of many laws related to the prevention of racial discrimination, hate speech, racist and terrorist activities, and sectarian reprisals. 

The Kurdistan Region Law (5) of 2015 known as the Protection of the Rights of the Components of Iraqi Kurdistan Law preserved the rights of the national components (Turkmens, Chaldeans, Syrians, Assyrians, and Armenians) and religious and sectarian groups (Christian, Yezidi, Sabean, Mandaean, Kakia’, Shabek, Kurds Failil, and Zoroastrianism), while Parliament had unanimously adopted the law prohibiting incitement to hatred, violence, exclusion and marginalization based on national, ethnic, religious or linguistic grounds.  The relationship between the central Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government was based on mutual respect, cooperation and confidence-building, which was based on the principles of the 2005 Constitution.  As for discrimination against Roma and those with dark skin, Mr. Al-Zuhari reaffirmed that there were no discriminatory legal provisions and that the State was working to spread a culture of human rights and prevent discrimination.  

DINDAR ZEBARI, Representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government, added that the Kurdistan Regional Government was the Government of Iraq’s active partner not only in hosting many displaced persons but also in defeating and liberating the northern areas of the country.  Since the start of the regional self-government, it was leading in terms of passing legislation for the wellbeing and protection of minorities - Yazidis, Christians, Turkmens, and others - who still largely remained in the region.  For example, 90 per cent of the Yazidis remained in Kurdistan, said Mr. Zebari, noting that the provision of basic services, the economic situation and the peaceful coexistence of minorities were among the key challenges.

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Rapporteur for Iraq, recalled that Iraq was a cradle of civilization and welcomed the legislative steps of the Government to protect minorities.  However, information was lacking on the implementation in practice of the constitutional and legislative framework, which also lacked sufficient reference to international legal obligations.  It seemed that there was no precedence of international law over the domestic legal regime, the Rapporteur remarked, asking how the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was being implemented in the country and how it was enforceable by courts.

The Rapporteur commended the law on trafficking in persons and remarked that Yazidi women had been victims of widespread and systematic slavery, sale and inhumane and degrading treatment at the hand of ISIS.  According to the Human Rights Committee, trafficking in persons and forced labour remained a significant problem in Iraq.  How many prosecutions had there been for trafficking in persons and what was being done to provide victims with restitution and reparations?

The Committee had received reports of enforced disappearances, abuse, murders and torture not only at the hand of ISIS but also by Government-supported militias in the context of counter-terrorism operations.  What measures were being taken to find out the fate of those disappeared in Daesh-controlled territories, mainly minorities such as Yezidis, and provide reparations to victims?

The Rapporteur raised concern about discrimination against other groups, mentioning in particular the black Iraqis, or people of Zanj heritage, who suffered historic and systematic discrimination in education, employment and other walks of life; Roma whose marriages were not being recognized and who were being forced out of the territory; and the Marsh Arabs, or the Arab al-Ahwar, whose way of life differed from the majority.

The delegation was asked to comment on the implementation of the provisions of the Penal Code and the Labour Code on perpetrators of forced labour.

Questions by Committee Experts

GUN KUT, Committee Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, said that the concluding observations issued after Iraq’s review in 2014 had identified paragraphs 6 and 18 for follow-up, but the interim report – due within the year – had not been received.  Mr. Kut asked the delegation to clarify how the two Federal Court decisions mentioned in the report were relevant to the questions raised by the Committee, and demanded an explanation as to how it addressed the challenge of the legal process to resolve the issue of disputed territories following the regaining of control over the territory from Daesh.  What was the status of the adoption of the draft refugee law, would Iraq accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, and what steps were being taken to address ethnically and racially motivated violence against refugees?

Other Experts asked the delegation to provide concrete data and statistics about the role of civil society in preventing racial discrimination and promoting tolerance, national cohesion and national identity, and to explain the implementation of the language law throughout the country.   Welcoming the establishment of the Reconciliation Committee, the Experts wished Iraq all the best on the difficult path towards national reconciliation, and then asked about the mandate and the composition of the High Commission for Human Rights, including in the area of complaints.  What was being done to ensure that it was granted status A under the Paris Principles? 

The Human Rights Unit in the Ministry of Education was a very positive measure, they said, as it ensured that human rights education was mainstreamed in curricula and textbooks, and that young people, who represented the majority of the Iraqi population, learned the values of tolerance and non-discrimination.  How was the cultural and linguistic diversity of the country reflected in the school curricula?

An Expert asked the delegation to comment on the allegations that Iraq was using the pretext of combatting Daesh to destroy communities such as the Sunni community.

ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Rapporteur for Iraq, remarked that 600 non-combatants had disappeared in Falluja in June 2016 and stressed the importance of finding out their whereabouts.  Turning to language policy, the Rapporteur remarked that Arabic and Kurdish were taught in school and asked whether the curriculum was taught in minority languages.  There were reports that in some cities, Roma settlements were surrounded by walls and separated from the rest of the population, and this ghettoization was a discriminatory practice.  Was it true that car registration plates in Kurdistan were different for Arabs and Turkmens, and that cars with such plates usually had to spend more time at checkpoints? 

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation responded to questions raised about the Ashraf camp, explaining that it had been created before the fall of Saddam Hussein and his dictatorship, and had been inhabited by Iranians.  The Government of Iraq, with the support of the United Nations, had decided to grant them the right to return to Iraq and protection from refoulement.

Democracy was a new phenomenon in Iraq, the delegate said, recalling that the democratic transition had started in 2003.  Women had an important role to play and participated at all levels.  Iraq was working on incorporating international instruments into the domestic law, said the delegate, noting that the final decision on the accession to the 1951 Refugee Convention had not been taken yet.  A draft refugees law was in the process of adoption.

The delegation remarked on the grave consequences of sectarian conflict, which had erupted in the country, on national unity and national reconciliation and said that the national reconciliation committee had been established to stabilize the civil peace in regions with sectarian tensions and areas previously under the control of Daesh.  There were two coalitions in Iraq today, one comprising Kurds, Sunni and Shias, and another one which comprised different segments of the society and had overcome sectarian divisions and ushered a new era in overcoming divisions and building national unity.  The federal Government comprised representatives of all the regions of the country; it prioritized national interests and would adopt new working methods focused on rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The Ministry for Human Rights had been replaced by the High Commission for Human Rights, which had taken over its personnel and buildings, and had a presence throughout the country.  The institution had been allocated a significant budget and had been given powers to effectively fulfil its mandate, including to receive complaints and undertake investigations.

Iraq had the responsibility to protect all its citizens from terrorist and other attacks, including minorities, and there was no discrimination in the provision of protection to different segments of the population.  Significant efforts were being put into protecting minorities, their communities and places of worship, the delegate said, noting that today, 127 centres benefited from Government protection.  The delegation emphasized the sacrifice of the Shia in the protection of the country, stressing that it was from this community that the martyrs came.

Iraqi women enjoyed positive discrimination and had equal rights like men.  In employment, they enjoyed maternity leave from work and other privileges, the delegate said.  There was no discrimination against Roma.  There were inherited social situations and social conditions in the country, which were being dealt with through awareness raising activities.

Article 140 of the permanent Constitution defined that a solution must be found for the contested territories, an ongoing problem in Iraq since the dictatorship, which concerned all the component groups of the society, the minorities in particular.  Some of the contested areas were Kirkuk, contested by the Kurds and the Turkmens, and the Nineveh Plains, which had suffered many atrocities by Daesh and were contested by the Yezidis, Christians and other minorities.  The fate of minorities living in the contested territories would be defined by an agreement to be drawn in due time, said the delegate, reaffirming that the minorities had their rightful place in the Iraqi society.  Iraq was working on overcoming sectarian divisions, which was evident in the new coalition Government and Parliament, and was paying particular attention to the protection of the rights and freedoms of minorities who had suffered unspeakable atrocities at the hand of Daesh.

The Marsh Arabs were a very localized community, continued the delegate, explaining that they had a very specific way of life, which was taken into account in the provision of public services like health, education or water and sanitation.  The Marsh Arabs lived in rather remote areas.

A raft of measures had been adopted to provide appropriate support to victims of atrocities, particularly the Yazidi women who had suffered sexual exploitation and abuse at the hand of Daesh.  Daesh victims were considered martyrs and had access to all measures of support for their social rehabilitation.  In Erbil and other places in Iraq, 1,529 women had been enrolled in social security and protection programmes, and shelters for women and children victims of Daesh had been set up in Baghdad.  Iraq had also established a Commission on Inquiry to conduct the necessary follow up to complaints of rape by criminal elements.

Responding to questions raised on mass graves, the delegation said that Law 5 of 2006 had set up a Government department tasked with handling and managing mass graves, both those from the dictatorship and those by Daesh, in line with international standards.  The department had been later on integrated into the Martyrs Foundation, in charge of exhuming and identifying bodies.  The mass graves would be located and identified by a high-level commission chaired by a judge and composed of representatives of the Martyrs Foundation and provincial Governments, and it then exhumed the bodies in line with local customs and agreed principles and procedures.  The Yazidis were the prime victims of Daesh and represented the majority of bodies exhumed from the mass graves in the Nineveh Plains, the delegate said, emphasizing that Iraq was overwhelmed by the dimension of the problem, and desperately needed financial and capacity support from the international community in order to identify the bodies.

The delegation insisted that the law did not discriminate against anyone based on colour of their skin, and this included Roma – or Tigan, as they were called in Iraq – who lived in full equality in the society.  There were some 12,000 Roma in the country, and 1,200 had obtained identity cards following the adoption of the law on nationality in 2006.

The right of all Iraqis to freely practice their religion was guaranteed by the Constitution. 

A committee had been set up under the Ministry of Justice to examine and investigate all allegations of enforced disappearances.  Very detailed investigative procedures, conforming to the highest standards, were in place, and all results and findings were shared with international bodies.  Iraq was a party to relevant international conventions on the matter and was committed to implementing its international obligations.  Furthermore, Iraq had established a department of missing persons mandated with receiving information on missing persons.  All allegations of enforced disappearance were being taken very seriously.

The Constitution prohibited the political activities of the Ba'ath party, and a law had been adopted prohibiting the activities of any political party promoting and inciting racism, hatred, and discrimination.

As for the education for minorities in their own languages, the delegation said that all school curricula were based on human values in order to protect the rights of all without any discrimination, and aimed to create a new generation that embraced the values of tolerance and peaceful coexistence.  The right of minorities to education in their own language was guaranteed, and there were departments for Kurdish, Turkmen and Assyrian languages.  There were television programmes on Iraqi satellite channels in minority languages, and signs in Assyrian script had been introduced in several cities in Iraq.

Marriage was one of the tenets of Islam.  In accordance with the Personal Status Law of 1959 and the Islamic principle that could not be changed, a marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man was prohibited.

Human trafficking was considered a flagrant human rights violations and a transnational crime.  The 2012 law on the subject was very stringent and it defined the right of survivors to specialized services and support.  Shelters had been set up in some governorates to provide rehabilitation to the victims.

In the Kurdistan region, there were 150 non-governmental organizations which provided services to women victims of trafficking and several shelters had been set up, as well as consultation centres in camps for Iraqi internally displaced persons and Syrian refugees.  The delegate stressed the important participation of women in the judiciary in the region, as judges, investigators and prosecutors, which would help the implementation of equality laws and regulations.  The region hosted almost 50,000 foreign workers, who enjoyed the same rights and responsibilities as Iraqi workers.

In terms of the conduct of the Peshmaga and the Iraqi defence forces during the 2014 to 2017 period, the delegation explained that several fact-finding missions had been set up to investigate the allegations of misconduct during the fight with ISIS which had not conducted a conventional warfare and had resorted to the use of suicide bombers.  The conduct of the Peshmaga had been supervised and led throughout the war by only one command.

The delegate noted that there were more than 5,538 mosques and 127 churches in Kurdistan, as well as 21 schools in the Turkmen language and 56 in the Assyrian language, particularly in the capital Erbil, and all those were an evidence that a peaceful coexistence among religions and minorities prevailed.  Furthermore, Kurdistan had a law on the rights of minorities which was the most progressive in the Middle East.  Finally, the delegate mentioned the challenges and hardship of hosting 270,000 refugees from Turkey, Iran and Syria.

Questions by Committee Experts

ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Rapporteur for Iraq, asked the delegation to comment on article 372 of the Criminal Code which criminalized blasphemy and provide data on racial discrimination brought to the courts and the corresponding decisions.  In many cases, it was not the laws and policies but the structure of the society and deep-rooted prejudices that caused discrimination in practice, and such seemed to be the case of dark skinned Arabs.  It was essential for Iraq to continue to address the causes of the long-standing inter-ethnic and ethno-religious conflicts and sectarian violence, and their impact on the minorities, particularly in the Nineveh Plains. 

Could the delegation outline regional cooperation in the field of human rights, the Rapporteur asked, mentioning in particular regional instruments which would help the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, such as the Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, or the Arab Charter for Human Rights.  This was relevant, Mr. Avtonomov said, given the Constitution which proclaimed Iraq an Islamic country and that there was no law above Islam.  In this context, what was needed to ensure the integration of the Convention in the domestic legal order?

The Rapporteur welcomed the inclusion of the Assyrian language in school curricula and the opening of a department for the study of the Assyrian language in the university, and asked about the status of the bill on Turkmen rights.
 
Other Committee Experts asked about the teaching in minority languages in public and private institutions and via television channels; the situation of foreign domestic workers, including the rights to social protection, work contracts, labour inspections, and protection from abuse and ill and degrading treatment; and the reflection of cultural and religious diversity in school curricula.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the recognition of any religion, including Baha’i, was governed by the law of 1975 – no other law had been issued on the subject of other religions since.

According to the Constitution, the elected President entrusted any party that won the majority of votes in elections to form the Government, while Parliament had the power to assign ministerial and other functions.  While forming the Government, the party that won the majority of votes would give due attention to ensuring representation of women and ethnic and religious minorities.

As for the prohibition of marriage between a Muslim woman and non-Muslim men, the delegate said that the Personal Status Law governed personal and family relations, while the Constitution defined Islam as the religion of the State and prescribed that all laws must respect the tenets of Islam.  The bill on the rights of Turkmens had been suspended due to objections by other minorities, who wanted a law that represented all the components of the society and all the minorities.

On the protection of rights of migrant workers, the delegation said that the authorities had been informed of rights violations by the Embassy of the Philippines in Iraq, and following the investigation, labour rights violations of 25 Filipino workers in the restaurant industry in Baghdad had been found.  The Labour Law applied to all workers in Iraq, Iraqi and foreign alike.  As for domestic workers, the delegation said that a home was a sacred place in which it was not possible to undertake labour inspection.  Some foreign workers arrived to the country illegally,

The Iraqi criminal legislation guaranteed the principles of non-discrimination and equality before the law and imposed sanctions for discrimination and attacks based on religion or ethnicity.  Iraq, a victim of terrorism, unfortunately had had its reputation besmirched and was negatively portrayed by the media or civil society, a delegate said, reiterating the country’s commitment to its international obligations, and stressing the professional behaviour of its judiciary. 

Iraq continued to study international instruments and was improving its judicial procedures, with a view to acceding to a number of international human rights instruments.  Islam was the religion of the State, and the Constitution provided a special mechanism in article 2 to guarantee the constitutionality of legislation, which was not contrary to human rights.  Iraq had a raft of laws that combatted discrimination and provided for reparation and compensation for victims of discrimination, and human rights were guaranteed in a range of other laws.

Concluding Remarks

ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Rapporteur for Iraq, concluded by commending the very sincere and honest exchange and reiterated that the Committee aimed to provide advice and helpful recommendations, and so help Iraq on its path of recovery from the conflict.

HUSSEIN AL-ZUHAIRI, Deputy Minister of Justice of Iraq, in his concluding remarks, recalled that Iraq had lived through an atrocious war, in which its diverse population had suffered at the hands of terrorists who had tried to push the country back to the dark ages.  Iraq was working to prohibit any act of reprisals, and now had a legal structure in place to ensure the respect for human rights.  

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for this important exchange which would contribute to upholding the principles of non-discrimination and justice.  The dialogue had been very fruitful and important results had been achieved in the interest of all human rights.


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CERD18.26E