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UNAMI's 4th Quarter 2007 Human Rights Report
Agency: Some Improvement, but Continuing Violations and Political Stalemate
04/14/2008 5:19 PM ET

Below is the executive summary from the most recent UN Assistance Mission for Iraq human rights report, covering the fourth quarter of 2007.

The full document contains the UN's human rights recommendations for the Baghdad and Kurdistan governments and Coalition forces on such human rights issues in Iraq as detainees, women, minorities, and refugees.

See the whole PDF here: UNAMI_HR_4thQrtr_07.pdf.

The executive summary reads:

1. The last three months of 2007 were characterized by a marked decrease in violent attacks involving mass casualties, including suicide attacks and car bombings, a trend which was attributed to the ongoing “surge” within the Baghdad Security Plan. The Government of Iraq continued to face enormous challenges in its efforts to bring sectarian violence and other criminal activity under control against a backdrop of political instability and stalled efforts in revitalizing a national reconciliation process. The extent to which the decrease in violence was sustainable remained unclear, with the security situation still precarious in many parts of the country. As security improved in parts of Baghdad and other locations, it deteriorated elsewhere with heightened activity by insurgent groups and others in governorates such as Mosul and Diyala. The civilian population remained in the frontlines of the violence perpetrated by armed groups and militia, with less spectacular but equally devastating consequences. Both Iraqi security personnel and the armed forces bore the brunt of other attacks, while MNF forces also continued to suffer casualties.

2. Both Sunni and Shi’a armed groups deliberately targeted civilians through suicide bombings, car bombs and other attacks while making no distinction between civilians and combatants. Such systematic or widespread attacks against a civilian population are tantamount to crimes against humanity and violate the laws of war, and their perpetrators should be prosecuted. Massive car bombings and suicide attacks had devastating consequences for the civilian population, while other attacks targeted government officials, religious figures, state employees, law enforcement personnel and professional groups including academics, journalists, lawyers and judges. Religious and ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups were also victims of violent attacks, as were women in so-called ‘honor crimes’. Despite the decrease in the general level of violence in the fourth quarter of 2007, there were numerous incidents involving intimidation, threats, abductions for ransom or other motives, torture, assassinations and extrajudicial killings.

3. Ongoing sectarian violence drove thousands of people from their homes. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that as of December there were over 4.4 million displaced Iraqis worldwide, including some 2.5 million inside Iraq and about 1.9 million in neighboring countries. Shelter, food, employment and access to basic services remained primary concerns. Restrictions on access to some governorates were imposed, while in others registration was curtailed, depriving IDPs of access to food rations, fuel and basic services. Further returns of IDPs and refugees to their place of origin or residence were observed during the last quarter of 2007. While not encouraging or promoting such returns at this time, the UN was taking steps to support the Iraqi authorities in meeting the assistance needs of returnees. UNHCR and the International Organization on Migration (IOM) continued to provide support to the Ministry of Displacement and Migration to support IDPs and refugees. A Joint Government of Iraq-UN Rapid Response Plan for Immediate Assistance to Iraqi Returnees in Baghdad was under implementation, together with a comprehensive plan within the Consolidated Appeal Process to support all returnees.

4. UNAMI acknowledges the measures taken by the Government of Iraq and the judicial authorities to improve the handling of detainees, including efforts to ensure more effective judicial oversight and alleviate overcrowding. The growing detainee population continued to pose challenges for the authorities, given the limited capacity to accommodate new intakes and the difficulties in ensuring timely reviews of detainees’ cases, both of which remain problematic. UNAMI welcomes the significant expansion of judicial capacity to process the thousands of cases, particularly at the investigative stage, as well as new directives issued by the Iraqi Government in September to regulate detention affairs. UNAMI remained concerned, however, at continuing prolonged delays in reviewing detainee cases; the lack of timely and adequate access to defense counsel for suspects; the failure to promptly and thoroughly investigate credible allegations of torture and to institute criminal proceedings against officials responsible for abusing detainees; and the procedures followed by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI) and other criminal courts, which fail to meet basic fair trial standards.

5. The MNF authorities introduced measures designed to improve the handling of detainees’ cases by expediting reviews and decisions on releases. An additional review process was introduced for security internees, as well as a new program to facilitate the release of larger numbers of detainees. However, UNAMI’s long-standing concerns with respect to due process rights of detainees within the legal framework adopted by the MNF remained unaddressed. The marked rise in the number of juvenile detainees held in MNF custody was also of concern, as was the continuing practice of holding detainees following dismissal of their cases at trial by the CCCI. The granting of access to MNF detention facilities to independent human rights monitors engaged in public reporting, including UNAMI, remained pending. In a positive development, the MNF launched a major rehabilitation program for both adult and juvenile detainees, including basic education classes, teacher training, vocational training, and a work program for adult detainees.

6. Incidents involving civilian deaths or injuries caused by the actions of private security contractors continued to be reported, with at least five such instances recorded in October and November involving several private security firms. The most serious of these, which left 17 civilians dead, occurred in September following shooting by employees of Blackwater in the al-Mansour district of Baghdad. While investigations into these incidents were ongoing at this writing, UNAMI remains concerned that those responsible have not, to date, been held accountable under domestic legislation in their own countries. Draft legislation submitted by the Government of Iraq aimed at lifting immunity from Iraq criminal prosecution for foreign contractors remained stalled in the Council of Representatives, according to government officials.

7. In the Kurdistan Region, gender-based violence remained a serious concern. UNAMI welcomed the KRG authorities’ creation of a department to combat violence against women within the Interior Ministry, but further concerted efforts and political will are required to initiate prompt and thorough investigations into these incidents and to initiate criminal proceedings against those responsible. Local journalists continue to face harassment and arrest, apparently linked to articles they had published in regional newspapers on issues of public interest and other subjects. The KRG authorities made progress in reviewing the cases of detainees held in prolonged administrative detention, leading to scores of releases. Several positive recommendations were also put forward by a ministerial committee charged with assessing prison conditions and the legal status of inmates, but the practice of holding hundreds of terror and other suspects illegally and for indefinite periods continued. Incidents involving torture by security and intelligence personnel remain without serious investigation and few if any perpetrators are held accountable.

8. UNAMI welcomes the Iraqi Government’s decision to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture, which was awaiting the passage of enabling legislation by the Council of Representatives. It also welcomes the invitation extended in December to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. UNAMI strengthened its working relationship with the four ministries involved in law enforcement, detentions and the administration of justice (Justice, Interior, Defense and Labor and Social Affairs), acknowledging the improved cooperation it has received. UNAMI notes a greater degree of transparency and access to information pertaining to law enforcement issues on the part of both Iraqi officials and their international advisers. Monitoring and interventions by the Ministry of Human Rights through regular inspections of detention facilities and other initiatives also ensure a level of oversight by the executive authorities. UNAMI also acknowledges the work of the Council of Representatives’ Human Rights Committee, notably on draft legislation affecting a range of human rights issues and visits undertaken to detention facilities. In the Kurdistan Region, the KRG authorities continued to work effectively with UNAMI in seeking resolution of a range of human rights concerns, including violence against women and due process issues. UNAMI also cooperated with the legislative authorities in both Baghdad and Erbil on several pieces of draft legislation affecting, among other things, the situation of women, freedom of expression and the establishment of a national human rights commission. UNAMI’s program of capacity building and training activities, particularly for government officials, remains active.

9. In November, UNAMI received detailed comments on its last Human Rights Report from the Higher Judicial Council, focusing on the judicial authorities’ efforts in respect of the handling of detainees. The Higher Judicial Council stated that UNAMI’s report was notable for its “credibility in presenting the facts and their causes”, and expressed its appreciation that the positive measures adopted by the judiciary with regard to due process and detentions had been highlighted by UNAMI. It noted, however, that several other measures adopted in this regard during the reporting period had not been mentioned, and that UNAMI’s recommendation that mechanisms for ensuring speedier resolution of detainee cases be instituted lacked details on the nature of such mechanisms. In its letter, the Higher Judicial Council listed a number of recommendations to judicial personnel which it intended to institute. UNAMI appreciates the constructive dialogue established with the Higher Judicial Council and remains committed to working with the judicial authorities in ensuring respect for the rule of law.

10. On 29 February, UNAMI submitted the current Human Rights Report for comment to the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government, as well as extracts from the report pertaining to MNF practices to the US and UK Embassies in Baghdad. While no comments were received from the Government of Iraq, UNAMI remains engaged in discussions with the relevant executive and judicial authorities on issues of concern. UNAMI received the comments of the KRG authorities on 13 March, as well as those of the US Embassy and MNF. The UK Embassy informed UNAMI that it did not intend to submit any formal comments on the report. In their response, the KRG authorities disputed some of UNAMI’s findings and provided additional and more recent data on a range of concerns, which are reflected in this report. In its response, the US Embassy questioned the factual accuracy of data or assessments provided by UNAMI, and these comments are reflected in this report. Other comments involving legal interpretations or other ongoing discussions between UNAMI and the US authorities, which had been highlighted by UNAMI in past reports, will be reflected in its future publications together with other substantive comments received from the KRG authorities.

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