Iraq: Mission report to Iraqi Kurdistan finds media and civil society at risk
Many see Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region in Northern Iraq, as a safe haven, a place of relative calm away from the terror and chaos that exists in much of the rest of Iraq. Yet independent journalists and human rights defenders are at risk, says a mission report by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR). Internal political tensions raging in the region have resulted in impunity for attacks which include murder and arson.
In the report, “Iraqi Kurdistan: No safe haven for human rights defenders and independent journalists”, GCHR documents the restricted environment in which civil society and the media operate. This report was written following a mission to Iraqi Kurdistan carried out in September 2014, when GCHR met with many civil society organisations in Sulaimaniya and Erbil.
“The fact that there are thousands of officially registered organisations in existence conducting important work, for example in the areas of women’s rights, minority rights advocacy and press freedom, is impressive and gives cause for optimism,” notes the author of the report, Melanie Gingell, a human rights lawyer on the GCHR Advisory Board.
Most organisations interviewed by GCHR reported that they were able to carry out their human rights work but had to proceed with caution, some requiring armed guards. “In particular it was understood that criticism of certain government figures was unacceptable and would result in threats and bullying,” says the report. Several women’s rights activists reported that they received multiple threats, including death threats, after making public statements on high profile women’s issues, in particular honour killings.
The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has arbitrarily tried, convicted and imprisoned journalists, despite protection offered under the Press Law of 2007. Three journalists have been murdered in the past six years, notes the report, yet none of these murders have been adequately investigated, which “raises serious questions over Iraqi Kurdistan’s claims to be an open democratic society.”
The mission report concludes with a series of recommendations to the KRG, including following through on investigations of journalists who have been murdered for their work, and of NGOs which are threatened, while ensuring that independent NGOs are able to operate without interference and surveillance by the authorities. GCHR also calls on the authorities to allow legal, peaceful demonstrations to take place without interference and violence from security officers, nor the arrest of demonstrators, journalists and photographers. Finally, GCHR recommends that the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression be invited to visit the region.
The full report is available HERE.