Iraq: Iraq – Violation of right to peaceful assembly and targeting of human rights defenders


On 31 August 2013, despite attempts by authorities to block peaceful demonstrations, thousands of protestors took to the streets in Baghdad and many provinces in the country. The demonstrators called for an end to the granting of significant pensions to members of parliament and other senior officials, within a few months or years of service. They also called for better social justice and an end to corruption.

In Baghdad, two groups applied for permits to protest on 31 August, but were refused by Interior Ministry officials, who failed to provide any legitimate reason for refusing the application. It is reported, that an organiser of one of the demonstrations was asked by ministry officials to confirm his home address after he submitted the request, which he viewed as an attempt to intimidate him. In anticipation of the demonstrations, security officials closed many main roads and bridges in Baghdad. Prior to the demonstrations, security forces carried out raids late at night, at the homes of human rights defenders during which they were warned not to participate in the protests.  However, despite these attempts to hinder the demonstrations and intimidate the participants, thousands of citizens took to the streets in Baghdad. 

In the city of Nasiriyah, even though a licence had been granted for the demonstration, the riot police moved in on the protestors, using stun grenades and water cannons to disperse them. A number of protestors and members of the local police were injured in the process. According to information received, the police arrested four wounded protesters while they were receiving treatment in hospital.

Khalid Ibrahim, co-director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), who witnessed the demonstrations in Baghdad, said, "the Iraqi government has to respect the right to peaceful demonstration and stop targeting human rights defenders." He added, " Preventing citizens from peacefully protesting and targeting human rights activists happens only in countries that do not respect the civil and human rights of its citizens."

The GCHR expresses serious concern at the flagrant violation by authorities of the right to freedom of assembly on 31 August 2013. It views this as a serious infringement on the human rights of the citizens of Iraq and an attempt to hinder the work of and intimidate the peaceful human rights defenders in the country.

The GCHR urges the Iraqi government to: 

1. Protect and guarantee the right to demonstrate peacefully and stop the targeting of human rights defenders and activists and the obstruction of their various human rights activities;

2. Release all those arrested for their participation in the peaceful demonstrations, which took place on 31 August 2013 immediately and unconditionally;

3.Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Iraq are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment. 

The GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to article 5 (a): “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels to meet or assemble peacefully”.