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Experts of the Human Rights Committee Commend Iraq for its Judicial Pursuit of Perpetrators of Sexual Violence, and Ask about the Civil and Political Rights of Displaced Persons

08 March 2022

The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded its consideration of the sixth periodic report of Iraq on how it implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with Committee Experts commending the State for taking steps to pursue and bring to justice the perpetrators of sexual violence, also asking for information about the civil and political rights of displaced people.

A Committee Expert commended the State party for taking steps to pursue and bring to justice the perpetrators of sexual violence committed by ISIL, and for having put in place a centre to investigate crimes of genocide, the ISIL Crime Investigation Unit. Another Committee Expert raised the issue of internally displaced people, also citing reports that women and children living in camps were often victims of discrimination for perceived ties to ISIL, and were subject to sexual violence. What measures had Iraq undertaken to prevent discrimination and sexual abuse of women and children in camps for internally displaced persons, and to prosecute those responsible?

Abdul Karim Hashim Mustafa, Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in opening remarks noted that while attacks from the ISIL terrorist organization were continuing to hamper efforts to promote and protect human rights in the State party. However, Iraq was committed to implementing its international commitments.

Salar Abdulsattar Mohammed, Minister of Justice of Iraq and head of the delegation, also in opening remarks, reaffirmed Iraq's commitment to respecting its international obligations and to deal positively with Treaty Bodies, adding that the Iraqi judiciary was working to protect human rights. It was an independent body working to build a democratic system that respected and protected human rights.

Dindar Zebari, Coordinator of International Advocacy of the Kurdistan Regional Government, also in opening remarks, noted that the Kurdistan region had the largest share of shelters for displaced persons and refugees, and currently housed almost a million displaced persons and refugees.

In the ensuing discussion, the delegation explained that electoral documents had been issued to displaced persons. The State had also devised programmes to support refugees and displaced persons' return to society. There were no restrictions on the movement of displaced persons, except people being socially and psychologically rehabilitated. Such persons were returned to their families after rehabilitation. A committee within the Ministry of Interior was working on protecting the rights of displaced children and providing them with essential services. The Ministry of Migration had prepared a database of internally displaced persons in all the governates of Iraq. It had also provided facilities allowing internally displaced persons to vote in elections. Further, it had supplied buses to move internally displaced persons to voting booths. There were 120,000 internally displaced persons who were eligible to vote, including 61,800 females.

In concluding remarks, Mr. Mohammed thanked the Committee for the dialogue, saying that it was an opportunity to re-examine the realities of human rights with Iraq.

Mr. Mustafa, also in concluding remarks, added that the recommendations of the Committee would contribute to building a system based on respect for the civil and political rights of all Iraqi citizens.

Photini Pazartzis, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks, thanked the delegation for the fruitful and constructive dialogue, and for its efforts to provide answers to the many questions asked by the Committee. The dialogue, she stated, and the ensuing recommendations constituted a strong basis for continued efforts to strengthen human rights in Iraq.

The delegation of Iraq was made up of representatives of the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Administrative Affairs; the Kurdistan Regional Government; the Supreme Judicial Council; the Human Rights Bureau; the Council of State; the Department of Women Empowerment; the General Secretariat for the Council of Ministers; the Ministry of Interior; the Ministry of Immigration and Displaced Persons; the Correctional Directorate; the Kurdistan Government Coordinator for International Advocacy; the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs; and the Permanent Mission of Iraq to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Iraq at the end of its one hundred and thirty-fourth session, which concludes on 25 March. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee's work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session's webpage. The webcast of the Committee's public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/

The Committee is next scheduled to meet in public at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 8 March, to begin its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Bolivia (CCPR/C/BOL/4).

Report

The Committee has before it the sixth periodic report of Iraq (CCPR/C/IRQ/6).

Presentation of the Report

ABDUL KARIM HASHIM MUSTAFA, Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee for allowing the delegation to participate in the session via video conference, as travel to Geneva had not been possible due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic and other logistical challenges.

Iraq was committed to the implementation of its international obligations, particularly international human rights covenants and conventions. Realization of civil and political rights was important because of the positive effects that doing so had on individuals and society.

The submission and discussion of national reports on time was a priority for Iraq. Attacks from the ISIL terrorist organization were continuing to hamper efforts to promote and protect human rights in the State party. However, Iraq was committed to implementing its international commitments.

SALAR ABDULSATTAR MOHAMMED, Minister of Justice of Iraq and head of the delegation, reaffirmed Iraq's commitment to respecting its international obligations and to deal positively with Treaty Bodies. A Ministerial Committee had been established to prepare the report. Its members included representatives working on implementing Covenant provisions at the national level and representatives of the Kurdistan region in the office of the Coordinator of International Recommendations, a high-level national commission that had been established for Treaty Body reporting.

Terrorist groups had committed violations of international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international criminal law. Those included the control of some provinces and regions in Iraq and killing, displacement, denial of rights, rape of women and girls and violations against Iraqis in general, particularly some ethnic groups, as well as the Camp Speicher and Badush Prison massacres. Iraq sought to cooperate with the international investigation team established by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2379 (2017) regarding the investigation and prosecution of such crimes.

In response to demonstrations across the State, the Government had approved a package of reforms, including a new electoral law granting equal opportunities and upgrading the democratic process. Under that law, elections were held on 10 October 2021, to elect a new parliament. The Council of Ministers of Iraq had approved the National Human Rights Plan (2021-2025), a working guide for all institutions and civil society toward enacting the recommendations of international human rights bodies, including the Human Rights Committee.

The Central Committee against Human Trafficking was working to prevent trafficking and provide care homes for victims. A hotline and e-mail had been established by the Ministry of Interior to receive complaints regarding trafficking crimes. The Iraqi Government had developed a programme to protect its cultural heritage, as well as to protect the cultural diversity of minorities in Iraq. Iraq was also the first Arab country to implement a national plan on women, peace and security. Further, Iraq had approved the National Child Protection Policy Document to strengthen child protection in Iraq, a document providing guidance for national strategies and action plans for the next 10 years regarding legislative protections for children. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was working on specialized training programmes on police practices, in accordance with human rights principles and humanitarian practices, for members of the security services at the Ministry of Interior. Iraq was also working to integrate human rights into student training curricula in military and police colleges.

The Iraqi judiciary was working to protect human rights. It was an independent body working to build a democratic system that respected and protected human rights. The Iraqi judiciary imposed the death penalty for the most serious crimes, but the accused had legal protections during investigation, trial, and imprisonment. Work was being done to address overcrowding in prisons, and to prevent deaths in prison, as well as torture and ill-treatment of inmates. Events that occurred during demonstrations and reports of enforced disappearances were recorded in accordance with the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and efforts were being made to resolve all cases.

DINDAR ZEBARI, Coordinator of International Advocacy of the Kurdistan Regional Government , noted that the Kurdistan Regional Government had enacted a Law Against Domestic Violence No. 8 (2011) which guaranteed women's rights in all respects, and was currently working to amend the law. Women were well-represented in Parliament, as well as in media and civil society organizations. The Kurdistan region had the largest share of shelters for displaced persons and refugees, and currently housed almost a million displaced persons and refugees. The Regional Government had established 39 camps, nine for refugees and 30 for displaced persons. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it had established six vaccination teams in the Erbil camps that had vaccinated over half of displaced persons and 87.9% of refugees.

1,800 Peshmerga forces and security forces had died fighting ISIL groups, over 10,000 had been wounded, and 47 were missing. After the liberation of captured areas, over 30,000 displaced persons and over 5,000 refugees had been returned home. However, the Regional Government did not force the return of displaced persons. It provided security, water, basic health services, electricity and education in those areas.

Laws had been introduced granting the right to peaceful demonstrations and granting access to information. Permits had been issued to television and radio broadcasters. The judiciary also followed up on five allegations of torture of journalists, and 31 people had been fined for using violence against journalists.

The Regional Government was pursuing the cases of thousands of abductees. It had formed a committee to gather information and free victims. After their liberation, the Government was providing supplies, shelter and psychological support to victims and supporting their return to society. As of February 22, 2022, 3,552 people had been liberated by the Regional Government. Members of ISIL who were under the age of 18 were treated as victims, and the majority of women and children found to have links to terrorist organizations in Erbil had been released. The Regional Government had also taken steps to combat human trafficking, including the promulgation of a law to enforce the Anti-Human Trafficking Act No. 28 of 2012. Since 2008, except in rare cases, 300 people had been sentenced to death without execution, and in 2021 only 36 individuals had been sentenced to death in the Kurdistan region. All persons given the death penalty in 2021 had had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment after appeal.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert welcomed the delegation, and asked the delegation to explain the "tenets of Islam" that underpinned the Constitution of Iraq. How could Sharia could be reconciled with the application of the Covenant in matters such as execution, flogging, stoning, polygamy, divorce provisions and inheritance? If Islam applied to all, how was the freedom of belief ensured? How were sectarian applications for Muslims, Christians, Azadis and Mandaean Sabians in line with the Covenant's requirement for unification of the law and its application to all citizens without discrimination or discrimination?

Did Iraq intend to ratify the First Optional Protocol of the Covenant on an individual complaint mechanism?

What mechanisms were in place to promote fair justice in the judicial system? An independent body was in place to investigate violations by public officials. What were the procedures for appointing members of that Commission, and how was their independence ensured? What was being done to protect the Commission from pressure and threats from Government parties and militia?

The Committee Expert welcomed the fact that Article 12 of the Iraqi Supreme Criminal Court Act and the Iraqi Constitution criminalized torture. However, some elements of those laws were not in line with the Covenant. As such, an Anti-Torture Bill had been deliberated in the House of Representatives since 2017. What was the progress of deliberations, and was the draft law in line with the Covenant? There were several reports of torture of prisoners in security centres. What was being done to investigate those, and prevent similar cases?

The Committee had received reports that State authorities had imposed restrictions on free speech aimed at silencing political opposition. A public official had been suspended in 2017 for two months for posting an article on Facebook criticising the Prime Minister. Some television and radio stations had also been closed in 2019, and journalists prosecuted. State officials had also used excessive force against peaceful protestors in October to December 2019 and in 2020. Had the State provided compensation to victims and punished offenders?

The Expert commended the Government's policy of lifting social and political restraints on women, which had led to increased appointments of women in parliament, as well as private and public institutions. What percentage of Government representatives were women? What was being done to protect African-Iraqi women from discrimination?

Another Committee Expert commended the State party's dedication to fulfilling its international obligations. The Expert also acknowledged the campaign of terror carried out by the ISIL group, and the hardships that the State party faced as a result.

However, criminal trials for terrorism had breached the right to due process. Accused persons lacked legal representation; time and facilities to prepare a defence were inadequate; and there was an overwhelming reliance on disputed confessions as the sole or main evidence of guilt. Did the State party intend to revise anti-terrorism laws and practices to comply with international human rights standards?

On the issue of enforced displacement, the Expert noted that Iraqi law did not criminalize it, and families faced substantial administrative and bureaucratic hurdles when trying to report cases. What processes were in place regarding the identification, prosecution and punishment of those responsible for enforced displacement, and what measures were in place to prevent it? What was the status of the draft law in place to combat enforced displacement?

The Expert also referred to reports from non-governmental organizations of widespread societal and institutionalised discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals. Those individuals were subject to abduction, rape, torture and murder at the hands of armed groups and militia, while no action was taken against the perpetrators. There were also cases of high-profile people being murdered because of their perceived sexual orientation. What measures would the State party put in place to prevent such crimes and ensure accountability, and to end the stigmatization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals?

Another Committee Expert commended the State party for taking steps to pursue and bring to justice the perpetrators of sexual violence committed by ISIL, and for having put in place a centre to investigate crimes of genocide, the ISIL Crime Investigation Unit. How was the State party tackling the worst human rights abuses in relation to other violations? Could the State party provide disaggregated data on complaints and prosecutions regarding sexual offenses committed by ISIL members? Had the State party made progress on investigating human rights abuses committed by members of the Ministry of the Interior's Emergency Response Division? What, if any, measures had the State party put in place to ensure that all the rights of the accused according to the Covenant were fully respected during trials?

The Expert welcomed the Counter-Terrorism Act's passage through the legislative process. What were the contents of the draft amendment to the Counter-Terrorism Act? Did it propose to revise the broad definition of terrorism? What were the main objectives and measures under the adopted National Counter-Terrorism Strategy? What protections were in place for foreign nationals who faced prosecution?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation stated that the tenets of Islam did not change over time, and that Iraqi law should reflect those tenets. As a result, capital punishment was handed down for the most serious crimes, such as atrocious terror acts. The relatives of victims required justice for the offenders. Offenders enjoyed legal guarantees and the right to a fair trial. They had the right to appoint a lawyer to defend them. Their cases would be reviewed by court delegates, and they had the right to appeal. Capital punishment could only be authorised by Presidential decree. The General Amnesty Law was passed in 2008 and 2016, requiring that serious crimes were duly investigated.

Iraq had been fighting terrorism for several years, with 1,700 State forces dying in service. Offenders in such murder cases deserved punishment.

The Iraqi Constitution guaranteed the right to peaceful assembly. The State had decided that all detained peaceful protesters should be released. Punishments including fines and imprisonment had been issued to officials who had committed violent acts against peaceful protestors. Persons injured in peaceful protests had been provided compensation from the State.

Enforced disappearances were due to the occupation of Iraq by foreign armies from 2003. The State Government had received a number of complaints regarding enforced disappearances, and was duly investigating.

In general, the Kurdistan Government was coordinating with the Federal Government and the United Nations Security Council to tackle crimes committed by ISIL. A court for investigating terrorist crimes had been established. Hundreds of accused who had completed their prison sentences had been released. The Regional Government was also working on finding and releasing victims of kidnapping. It was also working to investigate and prevent crimes against women, and to liberate women from the captivity of terrorist groups.

The Iraqi Government in 2020 had submitted a draft Bill on preventing domestic violence; it was being reviewed. Several procedures and decisions had been adopted aimed at preventing domestic violence, including a specialized court. Support centres had been established across the State, and those centres were providing swift support to victims through hotlines and social media. A strategy for combatting gender-based violence had been drafted and was being discussed in Parliament. Criminal cases of violence against women were being examined. 128 seminars had been held in 2021 regarding prevention of gender-based violence.

Protests were a Constitutional right, however there were challenges for public officials in policing protests. Occasionally protests were held without obtaining permission from the State, and protests were sometimes violent, with property being damaged. State officials ensured the safety of civilians in such cases. The State had instructed officials to minimize the use of force. In exceptional cases where officials had violated the right of peaceful protest, they were duly reprimanded.

The State was providing protections to prevent trafficking of women and forced marriage, and providing support to victims, such as those rescued from terror groups. ISIL had committed genocide and crimes against humanity. More than 6,500 people had been abducted, and more than 86 mass graves had been found. Many of the abductees had been liberated, and the State had set up an action plan for data gathering for abductees and survivors, and was facilitating the reintegration of victims into society. A Bill on enforced disappearances had been drafted and was being deliberated. It had been delayed due to a review of laws related to the Bill that needed to be updated and amended.

Iraq's definition of terrorism was in line with international standards. Terrorism was treated as a more serious crime than murder, because it targeted peace. An anti-torture law was being deliberated, and legislators had considered advice given by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq. Every law relating to individuals was not underpinned by Sharia law. However, Sharia law was in line with international human rights standards, the delegation said. The death penalty was issued for the most serious crimes.

There was a large caseload of missing persons and enforced disappearances, however the figure of 250,000 missing persons cited by a Committee Expert related to numbers before 2003, and did not consider enforced disappearances. Resources were being allocated toward to find missing persons. There were currently around 500 cases of enforced disappearances, with some persons being members of ISIL. Iraq was working on addressing the issue and preventing enforced disappearances.

The Iraqi Constitution stated that no law that was passed could be in violation of basic human rights, and that Iraqis were free to practice any religion.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert noted that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights needed to obtain permission to visit prisons. What steps did the State party intend to take to let the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights carry out unannounced visits to prisons and other places of detention without the prior permission of the competent authorities? Were there other security organs with official powers of arrest and detention?

The Expert also observed that all correctional facilities suffered from overcrowding, and said that it was not clear whether measures taken to improve prison conditions and overcrowding had been effective. Pre-trial detention was the norm and alternative forms of detention were limited. What measures could the State party take to urgently address the overcrowding of detention centres?

Another Committee Expert said over 500 cases of enforced disappearance was unacceptable, citing personal experience. Disaggregated statistics had not been received regarding violence against women. Could the delegation provide information about progress on the Bill against domestic violence?

Another Expert asked for statistics on prosecutions in sexual violence cases. Could the delegation provide more information on the National Anti-Terrorism Strategy? Could the delegation provide an updated number for how many camps there were for internally displaced persons, information about their distribution, and the current number of internally displaced persons?

Although the Ministry of Migration had stated that it had not received any complaints or detailed reports of violations of the rights of displaced persons, there were reports that women and children living in camps were often victims of discrimination for perceived ties to ISIL, and were often subject to sexual violence. What measures had the State party undertaken to prevent discrimination and sexual abuse of women and children in camps for internally displaced persons, and to prosecute those responsible? Many internally displaced persons did not have identity cards. Which measures were being taken to provide those?

Another Committee Expert thanked the delegation for its constructive approach to the dialogue. Could the delegation provide figures regarding cases of violence against LGBTI persons, and about measures in place to prevent such violence? Further, the definition of "terrorism" in the Anti-Terrorism Law extended to damage of property. The Expert called on the State party to address this over-reaching definition. The Expert also raised the issue of corruption in the judicial system, asking about the criteria used to appoint judges. Was there an independent body examining the independence of the system? Had any judges been held accountable for misconduct? The Expert asked for statistics regarding the number of cases of corruption in the judicial system being investigated.

On the issue of tribal courts, the Expert noted that although those courts had the potential to enhance the administration of justice in the country, there were reports of abuses from such courts. What measures were in place to prevent abuse from tribal disputes and rulings? Was there any recourse in the formal justice system for individuals who had suffered harm because of the application of tribal justice?

The Expert also addressed the issue of arbitrary detention, citing arrests that had been made without a warrant, routine delays in detainees being brought before a court beyond the 48-hour period required by law, denial of fundamental guarantees such as access to a lawyer, and a lack of contact with family until the accused confessed, as well as medical screenings not being carried out. The Expert also stated that there were secret prisons being operated by different militias, political parties and various tribal factions. What measures did the State party plan to implement to ensure that detainees' rights were respected? Was there a commitment to close secret prisons and regain control over them?

Responses from the Delegation

The delegation said there was a need to approve visits to prisons, yet all organizations could obtain access to prisons. In cases of deaths in prison, examinations were carried out to determine the cause of the death in each instance, and deaths were duly investigated. The Baghdad and Al Taj prisons had been renovated to increase capacity and improve facilities. Other prisons had been upgraded in line with human rights standards.

A COVID-19 outreach unit had been established to counter the pandemic within prisons. Masks had been distributed to prisoners, and sanitation and disinfection measures had been implemented. All prisoners and prison workers had been vaccinated, and all visitors were required to have a COVID-19 pass. Infected persons were isolated. There were also programmes in place to educate children in prisons.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, along with other organizations such as the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq had conducted visits of the Al Muthana Airport pre-trial detention centre to ensure that the human rights of detainees were being protected. A report had been submitted to the Prime Minister saying that there had not been any problems within pre-trial detention centres. The Assistance Mission had made 22 visits to prisons in 2021 and four in 2022. The State was cooperating with those entities to improve the prison system.

Addressing the issue of the independence of the judiciary, the delegation stated that the Iraqi Constitution required that judges must receive documents related to the accused within 24 hours, and must hear an accused person's case as soon as they were brought before them. Courts operated under the rule of law. If judicial personnel were not following the rule of law, they were criminally investigated. A Commission was in place to examine judges and penalize them if they did not follow the rule of law. Noone could intervene in the court's proceedings.

There were no secret prisons. The delegation requested more information on the allegation that such facilities existed.

Judges were appointed by the Supreme Judiciary Council. The Chamber of Judiciaries ratified the appointment of these judges. In Iraq, there were currently 56 refugee camps in operation in total, with nearly 40,000 families and over 170,000 refugees housed in total.

The Ministry had not been informed of any cases of displacement after return. Electoral documents had been issued to displaced persons. The State had also devised programmes to support refugees and displaced persons' return to society. There were no restrictions on the movement of displaced persons, except people being socially and psychologically rehabilitated. Such persons were returned to their families after rehabilitation. A committee within the Ministry of Interior was working on protecting the rights of displaced children and providing them with essential services. There had been no recorded instances of violence against women with displacement camps. A Committee had been established to prevent violence against women, and more than 800 workshops had been held on the issue. Legislation on domestic violence was being deliberated.

The National Committee on Enforced Disappearances had addressed 43 cases of disappearances, and all other cases were being investigated by regional authorities. Cases had increased due to suspects of terrorism fleeing to other regions; arrest warrants had been issued against those people.

There was a total of 6,500 people who had been abducted, with 3,500 people liberated. 1,200 of those people were women and 1,400 were men. An office had been opened in Kurdistan to support victims, and security services had played a large role in liberating victims. Numerous meetings had been held to develop an action plan and a database of missing persons. The State faced numerous challenges, with many families disappearing without a trace. Identifying individuals whose names and language had changed was challenging. Women and child victims were provided with financial support, and assistance to reintegrate into society.

If prison inmates were detained for too long, they were compensated. Inmates were provided with the right to a lawyer and visitation rights. Iraq had developed a plan to build facilities to house women and children.

Article 3 of Law 26 of 2006 stipulated that children born of an Iraqi mother and father were Iraqi. Children born as a result of domestic violence were registered as Iraqi, with ID documents provided to such persons.

Follow-Up Questions by the Committee

A Committee Expert requested that the State party provide disaggregated data on the death penalty and pardons. While commending that detention centres were being renovated and built, would those renovations address overcrowding? Were organizations allowed to conduct unannounced visits to prisons?

Another Committee Expert asked the delegation to outline the criteria for appointing judges.

A Committee Expert asked for further clarification regarding the balance between Sharia law and the Covenant. Had a court made a ruling regarding this balance?

Another Committee Expert asked whether internally displaced persons could exercise their right to vote.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that the judges needed to complete two years of study to be eligible for selection. A judicial committee selected judges who had Iraqi parents, who were under age 40, had committed no crimes, had practiced law for at least three years, and had graduated from a recognized faculty of law. Selecting and removing judges was the responsibility of the judiciary and no other party interfered.

The Ministry of the Interior was providing identification documents to children of unidentified parents. Iraq had not recorded any cases of rape in camps for persons displaced due to ISIL activities. The Ministry of Migration had prepared a database of internally displaced persons in all the governates of Iraq. It had also provided facilities allowing internally displaced persons to vote in elections. Further, it had supplied buses to move internally displaced persons to voting booths. There were 120,000 internally displaced persons who were eligible to vote, including 61,800 females. There were 86 ballot boxes across the State where they could vote, and over 300 support centres.

There had been 663 cases of commutation of capital punishment over the past years, the delegation said, adding that there had been 140 cases in 2020 where special amnesty was granted. Overcrowding in prisons was still an issue, but Iraq was working on improving the situation. There were 14 French prisoners, of which 11 had capital punishment sentences. Visits had been permitted for those prisoners. There were no recorded cases of torture of those prisoners. Iraq considered the destruction of property as a terrorist act when such destruction was a sectarian act aiming to undermine peace in Iraq.

The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights had been given powers regarding visits to prisons, and the State was planning to increase those powers to allow for unannounced visits. The flow of migrants to Kurdistan had caused its population to increase by 20 per cent. Neighbouring countries and regions received a large number of migrants. Support from United Nations agencies had been provided, but it only covered a quarter of overall needs. There was freedom of movement within camps, especially for refugees. The Ministry of Education had provided places in local schools for refugees studying in Arabic. The Ministry of Health had cooperated with the United Nations Children's Fund to provide vaccinations against COVID-19, and case numbers were stable.

Legislation on violence against women had been amended. Under the amendments, no "honour" crimes could be committed against women. Government departments were taking special measures to prevent domestic violence.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert cited the delegation's report that Anti-Trafficking Act (No. 28) of 2012 had a direct impact on the activities of gangs and individuals and had reduced criminal behaviour. Could the State party provide updated concrete yearly statistics from the human trafficking database? What were the results of the National Plan to Combat Human Trafficking in the three years since its adoption in 2019?

The Expert noted that there was only one shelter located in the Salikh area that provided care for victims of trafficking. Had that shelter been refurbished? Did the government plan to build other shelters to cover needs in various regional governorates? Was forced marriage being used to traffic women within the State party or to neighbouring countries for purposes of sexual exploitation?

Children born in a marriage between a Muslim and a non-Muslim were legally required to take on the Muslim religion and were forced to study Islam at school regardless of their religion. Why were those laws—which were contrary to the Covenant—still maintained? Were there plans to repeal them?

Several reports received by the Committee indicated that some religious communities were still denied recognition and were refused registration by the State party. What was the legal status of Evangelical churches in Iraq and why had they been denied recognition and registration? What steps were in place to repeal the prohibition against practicing the Baha'i faith?

Another Expert stated that the Committee had received reports that Iraqi authorities had imposed restrictions on free speech aimed at silencing political opposition. A public official had been suspended in 2017 for two months for posting an article on Facebook criticising the Prime Minister. Some television and radio stations had also been closed in 2019, and journalists had been prosecuted. State officials had also used excessive force against peaceful protestors in October to December 2019 and in 2020. Had the State provided compensation to victims and punished offenders?

The Expert commended the Government's policy of lifting social and political restraints on women, which had led to increased appointments of women in parliament, as well as private and public institutions. What percentage of Government representatives were women? What was being done to protect African-Iraqi women from discrimination?

Another Expert asked about the freedom of expression, asking what steps the State party had taken to protect human rights defenders and journalists from violations of their rights. Had any investigations into violations of those parties' rights to free speech been investigated? Had any of the perpetrators been identified and brought to account?

What measures had Iraq taken to investigate protest-related violence, enforced disappearances, unlawful abduction and killings? Did the State party plan to revise provisions of its penal code that criminalised freedom of expression? What steps had been implemented by Iraq to guarantee the right to freedom of peaceful assembly?

Another Expert noted that the Juvenile Welfare Act was being amended. Did Iraq plan to raise the age of criminal responsibility for children to above 11? Could the State party provide current data, disaggregated by sex and age, on the number of persons under 18 years of age who were being held in pre-trial detention? How was legislation banning forced marriage being enforced? What concrete measures were being taken to combat female genital mutilation in the entire territory of the State party, and what was their impact?

Had the national child protection policy been enforced to protect children being taken from their mothers and conscripted into armed forces and militias, or left with their biological fathers? Had mechanisms to identify children born as a result of sexual violence or to parents perceived to be ISIL members been successful? What measures were in place to assist mothers searching for their biological children, and to provide those children with support services?

Another Committee Member asked the State party to describe how hearings of judges were held. Could women take part? How many female judges were working in Iraq? Could observers be present?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation stated that vacancies announcements for judicial positions were published on the Web site of judicial authorities, and any qualified candidates could apply. The Government did not interfere in any way. The Supreme Judicial Council published appointments, and recently four women had been appointed. There were no gender quotas, and females had equal access to a judicial career. There were around 41 female judges and over 60 other female judicial staff.

In response to questions about protests in 2019, the delegation explained that Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council had ruled that the acts of protesters were not terrorist crimes, so the Anti-Terrorism Act did not apply. The Military Criminal Court had handed down death sentences to two police officers who were guilty of the murder of protesters in Mosul.

The Iraqi Government had fast-tracked a Bill on freedom of expression and the right to peacefully demonstrate. Violence against protesters was punishable under the criminal code. Five million dinars had been paid in compensation for victims of violence against protesters. The Bill on the freedom of expression was being deliberated by the Cabinet, and the State was planning to establish a court to investigate violations of the right to free speech. The 2011 Press Law protected journalists' right to freedom of information, and the State was investigating attacks on journalists.

Iraqi women had gained 80 seats in Parliament, an increase on the previous Parliament. Five political parties were headed by women. There were also three female Ministers, 12 female ambassadors, female judges and members of the defence force. Women of African descent, as with all women, had Constitutional protection and there was no legislation-based discrimination against such women.

There were loopholes in the law against human trafficking, so a committee had been formed to amend the law. The law against human trafficking was clear that any forced marriages made for the purposes of sexual exploitation were punishable offences. Measures were in place to cooperate with regional authorities and international organizations to prevent trafficking, provide support to victims, and provide training to human rights defenders. There were 50 victims of trafficking identified in 2020 who had been provided with support and placed in care shelters.

Iraqi law prohibited stripping the nationality of Iraqi citizens who had their nationality from birth. Any person whose nationality was stripped for political reasons could make a request to restore it. The law also guaranteed Iraqi nationality for children of parents with mixed nationalities.

The State had instructed to open churches in the Kurdistan region and build new churches. Law 5 of 2015 was passed to protect religious freedom, and any incitement on the grounds of religious belief or ethnicity was prohibited. Schools had been opened to teach the language of each ethnic minority.

The right to protest was assured, and 60,000 security officers had been trained in how to deal with protests. In the 2019 and 2020 incidents, protesters attacked police officers and were arrested for carrying weapons.

There had been five cases of alleged violence against journalists, two of which were being examined by the court. Legal action had been taken in one case. Work licences had been provided to 150 radio stations. The Iraqi authorities had abided by their international commitments, and investigators had examined the 2019 and 2020 protests. Offenders had been prosecuted and, in some cases, relieved of their duties. No live ammunition should be used during demonstration and protests.

Closing Statements

SALAR ABDULSATTAR MOHAMMED, Minister of Justice of Iraq and head of the delegation, thanked the members of the Committee for their deliberations and questions. The discussion had been an opportunity to re-examine the realities of human rights, identify progress and shortcomings, and set priorities for action for the future. The final recommendations of the Committee would be implemented into future Government policy, including the National Human Rights Plan for the next five years. The State would develop mechanisms for effective implementation of new measures promoting human rights.

ABDUL KARIM HASHIM MUSTAFA, Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations Office at Geneva, stated that Iraq believed in in the importance of positive and constructive interaction with the Committee. Its recommendations would contribute to building a system based on respect for the civil and political rights of all Iraqi citizens. Iraq was dedicated to submitting national reports on time, and the hard work of the Committee was appreciated, as was the constructive dialogue that had taken place. Iraq's Government would work with civil society organizations to effectively implement the Committee's recommendations.

PHOTINI PAZARTZIS, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the fruitful and constructive dialogue, and for its efforts to provide answers to the many questions asked by the Committee. The Committee had received updates on legislative developments in Iraq and the Kurdistan region, the current status of draft legislation, as well as ongoing legislative initiatives in the fields of torture, domestic violence, protection of the child, and amendments to the criminal code aiming at improving equality between men and women. The Committee, for its part, had raised issues of concern regarding the implementation of the Covenant, including transitional justice mechanisms, the independence of the judiciary, the application of the death penalty, counter-terrorism legislation, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention, particularly regarding the protests of 2019. The dialogue and the ensuing recommendations constituted a strong basis for continued efforts to strengthen human rights in Iraq.

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