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Iraq must adopt stalled human rights legislation: HRW

Human Rights Watch has urged Iraq’s new government to pass legislation addressing human rights gaps in Iraq’s legal system.

“The government should seize this opportunity to focus on protecting Iraqis’ basic rights and bringing Iraq’s laws in line with international standards,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a Thursday statement.

Iraq’s new government has come to power at a time of triple-crisis, namely when the coronavirus pandemic and plummeting oil prices have sunk Iraq into a growing financial recession, as well as mass anti-government protests that have returned  in recent weeks since coming to a near-stop during the coronavirus lockdown.

It remains to be seen whether the new cabinet will prioritize human rights.

The watchdog encouraged the government to turn its attention to several important legislative proposals drafted and reviewed by previous governments that enshrine global standards within the domains of legal representation, torture, enforced disappearance, and domestic violence in law.

This includes a bill in response to hundreds of disappearances, “largely of Sunni Arab men and boys, often during counterterrorism operations”, which fixes enforced disappearance as a specific crime in Iraqi law

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was sworn into office last week, replacing caretaker prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who resigned late last year following nationwide protests.

Young Iraqis began occupying city squares across the country in October 2019 to demand basic services, job opportunities, and action against corruption. They were brutally suppressed by security forces and pro-government militias. More than 600 people were killed and at least 18,000 injured.

An Amnesty report earlier this year found Iraqi security forces used an arsenal of weaponry against protesters, “nearly all of which are inappropriate as policing tools”, including grenade launchers, air rifles, birdshot, slingshots, and batons, together with live ammunition and military grade teargas.

Amnesty called on the new government Friday to conduct “thorough and independent investigations” into the killing of protesters.

Iraq’s young protesters returned to the streets of Baghdad and other southern cities on Saturday night to oppose the new government.

They largely view Kadhimi and his cabinet as cut from the same cloth as the political parties and external agendas that the protest movement sought to overthrow.

In his first cabinet meeting on Saturday, the new PM decreed the Supreme Judicial Council to release all protesters detained by the former government.

Kadhimi ordered an Iraqi army operation in Basra province early on Monday which saw several armed men arrested for allegedly shooting at protesters on Sunday night.

“We promised that those involved in [spilling] the blood of Iraqis will not sleep at night. We will keep this promise. Peaceful protest is a common obligation and everyone should follow it,” said Kadhimi in a statement on Monday. Source