Iraq: Eighth periodic report on violations during popular demonstrations - Part 2

24.09.20

The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) pays tribute to the brave women of Iraq who are fighting for women’s rights at a time when violence against women is constantly in the news, and calls on the authorities to join in honouring their work rather than prosecuting them. In addition, GCHR calls on Iraqi Parliament to immediately pass a domestic violence law, as tragic incidents continue to claim the lives of young women.

In this second part of its eighth periodic report, GCHR also reports on attacks on protesters and the media and calls on the authorities to protect freedom of expression and assembly, including in Iraqi Kurdistan, where civil society activists have been arrested. During the past month, numerous demonstrations took place across Iraq calling for an end to corruption, the implementation of measures to ensure fair elections, and for the killers of peaceful protesters to be put on trial. Meanwhile, protesters have contributed by cleaning up Al-Tahrir Square.

Judicial targeting of women’s rights organisation

Women’s rights groups are needed to promote and protect the rights of women in Iraq, and their work should be welcomed by the government. Yet, the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), which is legally registered, is facing judicial targeting for helping women flee abusive homes, and due to its unlimited support for the current popular movement in Al-Tahrir Square in Baghdad, the main sit-in area in Iraq, where it set up two tents. The OWFI actively participated in different cultural and social activities on women's rights and their role in protests.

The General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers has filed a lawsuit against prominent human rights defender Yanar Mohammed (photo above on right) as the head of the organisation. The complaint included several allegations, including breaking the law by harbouring women fleeing from their homes in various cases and exploiting girls by facilitating their travel outside the country.

The Karrada Court of First Instance in Baghdad held three sessions to hear the case, the first of which was on 23 March 2020. During the third session on 17 September 2020, headed by Judge Lamia Hussain, the court decided to postpone hearing the case until 01 October 2020 at the request of the defence team consisting of attorneys Mustafa Hadi Al-Saadi and Anmar Haitham Al-Saadi.

The OWFI established the first safe haven for women in Iraq in 2003 and expanded the number of safe houses to 11 in five Iraqi governorates. Due to its work defending Iraqi women's rights, it received the Gruber Prize for Women's Rights in 2008 and Norway's Rafto Prize in 2016.

This complaint lacks legal basis due to the close cooperation between the OWFI and various competent government agencies, including the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, since its establishment in 2003. As well, the NGO Department is entrusted with the task of resolving violations by civil society organisations through meaningful, healthy dialogue and meetings between the representatives of the two parties. Resorting to the judiciary should happen only after exhausting all means, including starting with a warning, according to the first paragraph of Article 23 of the Non-Governmental Organisations Law No. 12 of 2010, which states the following: Notifying the organisation that the violation should be removed within a period not exceeding (10) ten days from the date of notification.

GCHR requests that the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawler and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association Clément Nyaletsossi Voule call on the Iraqi government to immediately act to revoke this complaint.

Domestic violence legislation must be passed into law

In a heart-breaking example of violence against women, on 30 August 2020, another victim of domestic violence, Hanin Al-Zubeidi from Baghdad, who was in her twenties and eight months’ pregnant, died after her husband poured petrol on her body and set her on fire. Her husband, to whom she had been married for seven years, reportedly became addicted to drugs and beat her frequently. Al-Zubaidi was taken to hospital for treatment, but died after several days, and her baby did not survive. It had taken her five years to get pregnant.

These repeated tragic incidents require the speedy passage of a law that works effectively to stop domestic violence, including gender-based violence, by prosecuting those responsible, and providing real legal protection for children and women.

On 04 August 2020, the Iraqi government approved the Law on Combating Domestic Violence in order to protect vulnerable segments of society, especially children and women. The bill has been sent to Parliament for debate and approval.

Women’s rights activist celebrated

On a positive note, GCHR welcomes the news that Iraqi woman human rights defender Intisar Al-Mayali received the 2020 Per Anger Prize for Human Rights and Democracy. It is an international prize, established in 2004 by the Swedish Government to promote initiatives supporting human rights and democracy. The Government has commissioned the Living History Forum to manage the nominations, appoint a jury and organise all the various aspects of the prize.

Al-Mayali has worked as a volunteer in the field of civil and human rights since 2003 and is a defender of women's rights, a writer and freelance reporter in newspapers, magazines and websites, a member of the secretariat of the Iraqi Women's League (IWL), and a member of the coalition to support the national plan related to United Nations Resolution 1325, on women, peace and security. She holds a diploma from the Institute of Fine Arts in Baghdad. She participated in a number of local and international courses inside and outside Iraq, and has written many articles and writings related to women's rights, gender and the constitution. Al-Mayali uses her Facebook page, which was topped by a sentence that introduced herself, "A Woman from a Time of War and Peace", to comment on public issues of concern to citizens as well as in support of the current popular movement.

The award's website published a video of Al-Mayali's ongoing human rights work, at the end of which she said, "We can change, and we will change!" She won the award because she "fights for women’s rights in Iraq – a country where patriarchy, traditions, and sectarianism lead to discrimination and violence against women. Despite threats, she has documented human rights abuses for 20 years. She shines a light on domestic violence, child marriages, and honour killings. She raises awareness of the pressing needs of women and girls victimised by Dae’sh and other extremist groups."

Attack on TV channel and targeting of journalists