Human rights


Preventing Sexual Abuse and Exploitation in Iraq

As humanitarians, we have a collective responsibility to prevent and safely respond to sexual abuse and exploitation in Iraq,” said Jennifer Emond, a UNFPA specialist on the subject, during a training programme in Iraq.

Risk of sexual exploitation and abuse escalate during times of crisis. Community protection systems are disrupted when populations are displaced, and breakdown in law enforcement enable perpetrators to abuse with impunity. Under conditions of deprivation and fear, people with power – even aid workers – may coerce others into sexual relationships in exchange for food, medicine or safety.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and its partners are working to end these abuses through a range of actions known as “protection from sexual exploitation and abuse” (PSEA).

UNFPA and the World Food Programme (WFP) are together co-chairing the Iraq Network to Protect from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse. For the last two months, UNFPA and its PSEA network partners have been training humanitarian workers across Iraq on the principles of PSEA, including how to prevent abuses and respond if they occur.

“So far, we have trained up to 400 humanitarian workers in Sulaymaniyah, Dohuk, Baghdad, Basra, Soran and Erbil,” Ms. Emond said.

Those aid workers will themselves act as trainers, reaching out to hundreds more with critical information that can improve protections for vulnerable populations.

Improving reporting and protections

The trainings help humanitarian staff understand how sexual exploitation and abuse can occur in different scenarios, as well as the consequences for survivors, the community and all humanitarian actors. Participants are taught to understand the power imbalance between aid actors and vulnerable populations, and to realize what behaviour is not acceptable.

After Decades of Suppression, Baha’is Celebrate Publicly in Baghdad

By Saad Salloum for Al Monitor. Any opinions here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

After decades of suppression, Baha’is celebrate publicly in Baghdad

On Nov. 30, Baha’is celebrated the bicentennial of the birth of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, in a ceremony in Baghdad attended by representatives from the Iraqi parliament, the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR), the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, civil society as well as media activists.

This is considered the most prominent ceremony where Baha’is officially announced themselves for the first time in 47 years, as the Baathist Revolutionary Command Council issued Decree No. 105 in 1970 to ban Baha’i activities. As a consequence, Baha’i administrative institutions in Iraq were dissolved and any activity where Baha’is declared their religious identity was punishable by imprisonment.

Kawakeb Hussein, who was arrested under the 1970 decree, spoke to Al-Monitor about the decree’s negative impact on the Baha’i identity. She said, “The law attempted to obliterate the Baha’i religious identity, strip us of our beliefs and dissolve our identity into that of the Muslim majority. However, the Baha’is’ celebration 47 years after the official ban proves that eradicating Baha’i belief from Iraq is almost impossible, as it was from Baghdad — which the Baha’i prophet named the City of God — that this worldwide religion was announced.”

A speaker at the ceremony from the Central Baha’i Forum mentioned that Baghdad is a sacred city for Baha’is as well as how important it is to hold ceremonies in Baghdad as a solidarity action against the difficult circumstances Iraq is going through.

In this context, Aseel Salam, a Baha’i activist, told Al-Monitor, “The organizing of this ceremony in Baghdad connotes several messages, among which is the importance of Baghdad as a sacred city for Baha’is, as it is the capital city where Baha’u’llah launched his call in 1863. His house, where Baha’is from all over the world travel to perform pilgrimage, is in Baghdad as well. Moreover, Baghdad holds a special place in Baha’i history, as Baha’u’llah was exiled there from Tehran before he was exiled again in Istanbul and Edirne [in Turkey] prior to his last exile in Acre [in Syria, now Israel].”

Nightclubs, Cafes still Risky Business for Iraqi Women

By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

The Iraqi parliament’s Committee on Women, Family and Childhood revealed Nov. 13 that there are organized criminals behind the work of some female minors in cafes and casinos. The committee said this phenomenon is no different from that of human trafficking.

The next day, an Iraqi radio station reported the story of a 17-year-old girl who works at a nightclub in Baghdad. “I have to work because I need money” to support herself and her mother, she said. “The owner of the club raped me more than once.” She also said she is subjected to beatings almost daily.

Another girl, however, told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that some cafes and nightclubs operate aboveboard and provide desperately needed employment opportunities for young women. “I managed to work at a relative’s [place] because I needed money and the casino owner agreed to temporarily hire me for humanitarian reasons.”

Regardless of the situation, in conservative societies such as Iraq’s, girls and women who work at casinos, nightclubs and even coffee shops are often frowned upon.

Also, as women rarely get involved in this field of work, when they do it often draws media interest. One example is a woman from Nasiriyah who decided Jan. 20 to open a family coffee shop, the first of its kind in the south. The opening was widely covered by local media. Yet while this woman showed courage to embark on a nontraditional career path, other women have faced obstacles. On April 27, the Wasit Governorate Council voted by a majority to ban girls from working in cafes.

The Child Labourers of Baghdad

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Child labour is illegal in Iraq. But if there is death or disease in the family, minors are often forced to work. The authorities responsible for policing labour laws take a range of different attitudes to that.

Just a few days after the beginning of the new school term in Baghdad and Mohammed Ali dropped out. He is 12. His father was killed in a bombing in the city a few months ago and now as the eldest of three sons he feels adult responsibility weighing heavily upon him.

“I just had to search for a job, any job, in order to bring food to my brothers and to my mother who is taking care of them,” says Ali, who NIQASH met on the street. “I will never let her go out to search for a job as long as I am there for her.”

Ali is sweating and he wears ragged clothing. He works as a porter and carries building materials, rocks and other heavy items around the city. He leaves home at sunrise and returns at sunset, eats just one meal a day that costs him about IQD1,000 (US$0.83) and gives the rest of his daily wages, IQD15,000 (around US$12) to his mother for housekeeping. He makes sure that his younger brothers are doing all right and he sleeps next to them in the same bed before getting up the next day to go out and do the same all over again.

Ali is just one of many underage labourers in Iraq. The number of child workers has increased significantly since 2003. Last year the United Nations children’s’ agency, UNICEF, said that more than half a million Iraqi children are thought to be working rather than at school. A lot of those cases are due to violence or displacement, as in Ali’s situation. Iraq’s own Ministry of Planning has higher numbers, saying that about one in five children, aged mostly between five and 14, work to support their families and themselves.

In Anbar, Liquor Shops are an Unlikely New Sign of Hope

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Even before the extremists were in control in Anbar, selling alcohol was banned. During extremist control, selling liquor was punishable by death. But now liquor stores have become a sign of freedom.

These days as you head into Karmah, one of the smaller cities in the central Anbar province, you may notice a small store on the way into town.

It’s not a big shop but its doors are wide open and it is selling alcohol. It is an unusual sight in this province, where conservative traditions and religious customs prevent the open sale and consumption of alcohol. But things have changed since the extremist group known as the Islamic State was in charge here.

“While we were displaced we lived in both Baghdad and in northern Iraq,” says Ahmad Abu Ali, a 44-year-old local; Karmah was part of the territory controlled by the extremist Islamic State, or IS, group and Abu Ali and his family fled their hometown. “And we used to see a lot of these shops there, close to where we lived. To us, it was an indication that these cities were safe and secure.”

“Although the drinking of alcohol is against our religion, the shop is a good sign. It is proof that the militants who once had such a big role in this city, and those who supported the militants, no longer play a part here,” Abu Ali explains. “Each person can practice their own religion. And when we saw this [the alcohol store] it gave us hope.”

Although Abu Ali doesn’t drink, his fellow townspeople who do are happy about the alcohol store for other, more obvious reasons.

“In the past we used to have to go to Baghdad to buy spirits,” Ibrahim Abdo, a 38-year-old local of Fallujah, told NIQASH. Abdo used to travel to the capital to buy enough alcohol to last a couple of weeks but he no longer has to do this. “We used to hide the bottles in the car so that the police and people at checkpoints wouldn’t harass us. They would destroy the drinks if they found them. Today I can just buy what I want even while the security forces are watching,” he says, somewhat incredulous.

Human Rights Training for Teachers in Kurdistan

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Human Rights Office (HRO) in cooperation with the Ministry of Education in Kurdistan Region of Iraq organized a four-day training course in Erbil for 23 teacher, including 9 females, during 13 – 16 November on human rights education.

This was the second in a series of courses organized by HRO and supported by the Flemish Government and the Ministry of Education in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KR-I).

Mr. Yousif Othman, Director-General of the Planning Department in Ministry of Education in KR-I welcomed the training, which targets Public School teachers in KR-I. He also highlighted the importance of mainstreaming human rights principles in the curricula and teaching methods and techniques.

Ms. Shahla Saeed, Human Rights Education Project Manager at HRO emphasized the role of teachers in influencing students’ attitudes in line with human rights values and fundamental freedoms in schools.

The overall goal of the training focused on raising awareness of teachers and supervisors of secondary schools on human rights education in Erbil Governorate and its surroundings and districts (Soran, Koya, Khabat, Makhmour and Shaqlawa).

(Source: UNAMI)

Changes To Marriage Law Erode Women’s Rights

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Changes To Marriage Law Just One Small Part Of Erosion Of Iraqi Women’s Status

On October 30, Iraq’s parliament made a decision that stirred up much anger around the country. They agreed to make amendments to the country’s personal status law in principle. The proposed changes have been a subject of controversy for years but this time it seems that politicians may finally be getting their way.

In most Muslim countries, issues like divorce, custody of children and marriage are ruled by religious law, or Sharia. However in 1959, the Iraqi government passed a new personal status law, based on the law of the land that treated all sects and ethnicities equally. This is Law Number 188 and it is still in effect today, with rulings on related issues made by government-run courts.

As Germany’s Heinrich Boell foundation has reported, the current Iraqi law is based on religious rules but it took a more liberal approach. “It restricts child marriages (by setting the legal age of marriage at 18 years), bans forced marriages and restricts polygamy; it curtails men’s prerogatives in divorce, expands women’s rights in divorce, extends child custody to mothers, and improves inheritance rights for women,” the foundation has stated. “It remains one of the most liberal laws in the Arab world with respect to women’s rights.”

The latter quality is something that many modern Iraqis have been proud of. Hence the uproar when news broke about the agreement to amend the personal status law.

Those amendments have been a long time coming. Shortly after the regime headed by former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, was removed by a US-led invasion, the new Iraqi government stated its intention to change Law 188 and to reinstate religious courts on a sectarian basis – that is, cases would be heard by either a Sunni or Shiite Muslim court, depending on the sect of those using the law. Ever since 2004, protests by civil society organisations have managed to prevent this.

But it seems that this time the politicians may be able to make the changes they have sought for so long – even though it seems that any actual amendments will be a far longer time coming.

Changes To Marriage Law Erode Women’s Rights

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Changes To Marriage Law Just One Small Part Of Erosion Of Iraqi Women’s Status

On October 30, Iraq’s parliament made a decision that stirred up much anger around the country. They agreed to make amendments to the country’s personal status law in principle. The proposed changes have been a subject of controversy for years but this time it seems that politicians may finally be getting their way.

In most Muslim countries, issues like divorce, custody of children and marriage are ruled by religious law, or Sharia. However in 1959, the Iraqi government passed a new personal status law, based on the law of the land that treated all sects and ethnicities equally. This is Law Number 188 and it is still in effect today, with rulings on related issues made by government-run courts.

As Germany’s Heinrich Boell foundation has reported, the current Iraqi law is based on religious rules but it took a more liberal approach. “It restricts child marriages (by setting the legal age of marriage at 18 years), bans forced marriages and restricts polygamy; it curtails men’s prerogatives in divorce, expands women’s rights in divorce, extends child custody to mothers, and improves inheritance rights for women,” the foundation has stated. “It remains one of the most liberal laws in the Arab world with respect to women’s rights.”

The latter quality is something that many modern Iraqis have been proud of. Hence the uproar when news broke about the agreement to amend the personal status law.

Those amendments have been a long time coming. Shortly after the regime headed by former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, was removed by a US-led invasion, the new Iraqi government stated its intention to change Law 188 and to reinstate religious courts on a sectarian basis – that is, cases would be heard by either a Sunni or Shiite Muslim court, depending on the sect of those using the law. Ever since 2004, protests by civil society organisations have managed to prevent this.

But it seems that this time the politicians may be able to make the changes they have sought for so long – even though it seems that any actual amendments will be a far longer time coming.

“Alarming Violence” against Journalists in Northern Iraq

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the murder of a Kurdistan TV cameraman near Kirkuk and the previous day’s violence against media personnel by demonstrators in Erbil. The two separate incidents in the space of a few hours point to an alarming decline in the security of journalists in northern Iraq.

The cameraman, Arkan Shareef, was stabbed to death in his home in Daquq, 60 km south of Kirkuk, at around 3 a.m. yesterday by masked intruders while his family was shut in another room. The motives for the murder are not known.

Aged 50 and the father of three children, Abdullah had worked since 2004 for Kurdistan TV, which is affiliated to Iraqi Kurdistan’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). He was also a primary school teacher in a nearby village.

We condemn this murder and called for a prompt and impartial investigation by the Iraqi authorities with the aim of identifying the perpetrators and their motives,” said Alexandra El Khazen, the head of RSF’s Middle East desk.

The current political differences in this part of the world must not blind us to an unacceptable reality, namely crimes of violence against civilians and, in this case, the cold-blooded murder of a journalist.”

In a statement condemning Abdullah’s murder, Kurdistan TV said it was one of a spate of serious acts of violence against civilians, especially Kurds, and that it confirmed the lack of security in areas seized in recent days by the Iraqi army and Shia paramilitary forces (Hashd al-Shaabi).

When reached by RSF, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s foreign affairs department, Falah Mustafa, also spoke of the many human rights violations against civilians, especially journalists, since the Iraqi army and Shia paramilitaries pushed into the disputed territories.

Harassment of Kurdish media

Pro-KDP Kurdish media have been affected by the tension between the Kurdish authorities and the Iraqi federal government in Baghdad. On 23 October, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC) ordered the suspension of two pro-KDP Kurdish TV channels, Rudaw TV and Kurdistan 24, claiming that they lacked licences and had been broadcasting reports that incited violence and hatred.

Deaths Of Journalists Undermine History Of Free Speech

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Deaths Of Journalists In Sulaymaniyah Undermine History Of Free Speech

In the mid-1990s, Kurdistan was split politically as Erbil and Sulaymaniyah during the civil war came under the control of two parties with differing approaches to press freedom, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) respectively.

Erbil province, administered by the KDP and known as the Yellow Zone because of the colour of the party’s flag, was always seen as more conservative.  Sulaymaniyah and the administrations of Karamian, the Green Zone, also a namesake of the party’s colour, encouraged freedom of expression to blossom.

But the number of activists and journalists who have disappeared or being killed in Sulaymaniyah province this year alone has raised alarm bells about freedom of expression in the traditionally more open of the two provinces.

Mullah beaten

On Friday, August 18, Mullah Saman Sankawi, the imam and preacher of the Chamchamal Mosque was attacked and wounded in front of his mosque.  The cleric had been very critical of authorities in the region and opposes the KDP’s planned referendum on Kurdish independence, due to take place on September 25th this year.

“We are living in a zone where we often take pride that we have freedom of expression and that it is to a certain extent better than the Yellow Zone,” Mullah Saman told Niqash. ”But this only holds true as long as personal interests are not threatened. When they realize that their personal and party interests are at stake, they are not only ready to attack you, but also to kill you. This isn’t freedom or democracy.”

The attack on Mullah Saman came just a few minutes before Friday prayers. The Asayesh, (the security forces) in the area confiscated the surveillance cameras at the front of the mosque. They reportedly later told Mullah Saman that they were not working.

“People’s lives are in danger and the PUK is responsible for this situation. I don’t have any personal problems with anyone and I was only beaten because I attack the ruling party, speak about corruption, injustice and the starvation of people,” added Sankawi.  “And I say no to the referendum.”

Neutrality at stake

Sulaymaniyah province has witnessed many demonstrations and major protests during the 26 years of rule by Kurdish parties. It is the cradle of dissent, as well as partisan and non-partisan media in Kurdistan.