Report Calls Attention to the Continued Persecution of Iraq's Minorities
Although the overall security situation in Iraq has gradually improved, the conditions for minority communities of the country's diverse population remain extremely distressing. Investigations throughout 2009 by Minority Rights Group International's (MRG's) partner in Iraq, Iraqi Minorities Organization (IMO), coupled with secondary research sourced from 2009 and the first half of 2010, lay bare the frequent bombings, torture, arbitrary arrest, intimidation, displacement and marginalization facing Iraq's cultural and religious minorities.
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The research focuses on the Kurdistan Region; Kirkuk and Nineveh provinces in the north; and Baghdad, given the concentration of minorities in these areas, collecting accounts primarily from Christians, Faili Kurds, Shabaks, Turkmen and Yazidis. The report details evidence of violence against these communities, including targeted killings, gender-based violence and attacks on religious sites; arbitrary arrests and intimidation; political disenfranchisement; internal displacement and resulting loss of property; and discrimination in accessing public services. It finds that violence and marginalization has occurred for reasons ranging from territorial disputes between Arabs and Kurds, to religious bias, political representation and long-standing patterns of discrimination.
Although little disaggregated data is available for 2009 on minority women, research suggests that minority women and children represent the most vulnerable section of Iraqi society. The ongoing threat of violence has seriously restricted minority women's freedom of movement and can inhibit their right to express their religious and ethnic identity through the way they dress. These limitations in turn restrict their access to health services, education and employment.
While levels of displacement in Iraq have stabilized, the report identifies how an estimated 2.8 million people remain displaced. A significant number of those people displaced internally in Iraq since 2006 -- almost 250,000 -- represents minority populations. Figures for November 2009 show that, for example, of the several thousand Christian families originally from Baghdad, just 60 currently reside there, the remainder of them having fled mostly due to attacks and intimidation. Meanwhile, internal displacement following violence in the run-up to the March 2010 elections has left internally displaced persons (IDPs) in critical need of humanitarian support.
The report highlights how property restitution following displacement needs to be addressed urgently. Though certain procedures and bodies are in place to deal with the issue, they have so far largely failed to deal with land and property disputes, including complaints of property destruction. For minorities, the difficulties can be compounded. A majority of IDPs surveyed in 2009 reported not seeking assistance from relevant institutions, as they lacked required documents, mistrusted state institutions, could not afford the required fees, or feared retribution.
MRG remains extremely concerned about the ongoing climate of impunity that exists in relation to attacks on minorities. Indeed, despite the extent of the atrocities committed against minorities in recent years, the victims see little evidence of investigations to identify and prosecute the perpetrators of these attacks. Even in cases where investigations have been conducted, they have generally been limited to those related to Christians and the conclusions, if any, have not been made public.
In looking to solutions, the report highlights the urgent need for legislation implementing minority rights, particularly those enshrined in Article 125 of the Iraqi Constitution, after a process of consultation allowing for effective and meaningful consultation with minority communities.
Other key recommendations of the report include:
• The Iraqi government should draw up an implementation plan to accompany the current National Policy on Displacement which should comprise:
1. greater resource allocation to female-headed IDP households;
2. a focus beyond return which includes resettlement and reintegration policies.
• The Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) should initiate independent investigations of all violence against minorities, including killings, random arrests and torture, and attacks on religious property, congregations and clergy. Results of the investigations should be made public, and those against whom credible evidence exists should be prosecuted in full compliance with fair trial standards.
• The Iraqi government and the KRG should consult with minority representatives and should put in place protective measures for minority communities, STILL TARGETED: CONTINUED PERSECUTION OF IRAQ'S MINORITIES 3 particularly in Nineveh and Kirkuk. These measures should include the hiring of minority police officers.
• The Iraqi government and the KRG should allocate resources to protect minority women and other victims of gender-based violence through the establishment of more women's shelters, and through increased support to women's NGOs and services.
• The KRG should make revisions to Article 5 of the Kurdish Constitution to give legal recognition to Shabaks and Yazidis as distinct ethnic groups. Accordingly, Articles 35 and 36, which outline minority rights, should be extended to include Shabaks and Yazidis, and Article 14 should be extended to include the Shabak and Yazidi languages.
• The KRG should enact legislation implementing Articles 35 and 36 of the Kurdish Constitution to ensure minorities' cultural and administrative rights. The Kurdistan National Assembly should establish a committee on minority affairs that includes representatives of all minorities and that should be consulted during the drafting of such legislation.
• In accordance with Article 19 of the Kurdish Constitution, the KRG should take immediate action against state officials and others who persecute members of minorities for choosing not to identify themselves as Kurds or affiliate themselves with Kurdish political parties.
Minority Rights Group International