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Iraq protest killings probe should be ‘top priority’ for new government: HRW researcher

Investigation into the killings of participants in Iraq’s ongoing popular protests should be a “top priority” for the country’s new prime minister and government, a top Human Rights Watch (HRW) researcher has told Rudaw.

Wille welcomed new premier Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s announcement of an investigation into the killing of some 600 protesters since October 2019, but the investigation process must be transparent, findings must be made public, and families must see compensation and accountability where abuses are found to have happened, Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch in an interview with Rudaw via video on Thursday night.

“That will show that he is serious about a very different kind of Iraq and a different relationship with the people,” Wille said.

Iraqis should not just be guaranteed the right to protest, but to write social media posts critical of government – speech freedoms “protected under international law” – without fear of imprisonment or enforced disappearance, she said, redoubling on HRW’s call on Thursday for advancement on human rights legislation to be jumpstarted by Kadhimi’s government.

Though Iraq’s 2005 constitution protects fundamental human rights, other aspects of Iraqi law do not, explained Wille. Iraq’s penal code, implemented in 1969, “includes many provisions that are vague, that allow government authorities to prosecute people for basically any statement that they make that the government doesn’t like…the law allows them to prosecute people for what is essentially free speech,” she said.

Some efforts at legal progress have for years been stuck at the drafts stage, awaiting parliamentary approval – including laws and amendments that would make a “significant impact on the protection of human rights.”

A draft law to protect women against violence has remained merely a draft since 2015 is “absolutely essential for the government to pass,” Wille said.

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

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,” Kadhimi said in a statement on Monday. Source