Baghdad, Erbil incapable of protecting protesters — HRW

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The annual report published by Human Rights Watch on Monday revealed a gloomy picture in Iraq in 2020, accusing Baghdad and Erbil of failure to protect anti-government protesters.

Except for lauding the Kurdistan authorities’ suspension of the death penalty, the report practically criticized everything else in the country.

The report tackled the protests, judiciary, human rights, impact of the coronavirus pandemic, living conditions, Iranian influence and Turkish airstrikes against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in northern parts of the country.

The report did not come as a surprise to observers of the situation in Iraq or human rights activists. Perhaps even the government and its institutions were not surprised either. HRW had issued similar negative reports about Iraq over the years and they have had little impact in the country.

In its introduction, the report focused on arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killing against protesters by security forces at the end of 2019 and in 2020. It directly criticized the governments in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region for their handling of the demonstrations.

It said that the government of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who came to office in May 2020, has mismanaged the file and put a stop to violations against protesters despite its pledges to hold the perpetrators to account and formation of fact-finding missions to that end.

“It had yet to announce any findings publicly as of late 2020,” said the report.

It also criticized Iraq’s criminal justice system, saying it was “riddled with the widespread use of torture and forced confessions and, despite serious due process violations, authorities carried out numerous judicial executions.”

Further, it slammed the authorities in Kurdistan after security forces arrested dozens of people, who were planning on participating in protests against the delay in paying salaries.

The report did not overlook the crimes committed by the ISIS terror group against the Yazidis, including systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage. However, it criticized the attitude of authorities in Baghdad and Erbil over the issue.

“Security forces denied security clearances required to obtain identity cards and other essential civil documentation to thousands of Iraqi families the authorities perceived to have ISIS affiliation, usually because of their family name, tribal affiliation, or area of origin,” it said.

“This denied them freedom of movement, their rights to education and work, and access to social benefits and birth and death certificates needed to inherit property or remarry,” it continuing, saying the situation was tantamount to “collective punishment.”

On foreign actors, HRW said “Iran wields significant political influence in Iraq, largely through political parties and some armed groups within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).”

Turkish airstrikes throughout 2020, targeting members of the PKK based in northern Iraq, “killed over a dozen civilians in the region. Human Rights Watch was unaware of any investigations by the Turkish authorities into possible laws-of-war violations in northern Iraq or compensation of victims.”

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