UNITED NATIONS — A United Nations report on Iraq says the human rights situation there remains fragile and huge development challenges loom as the country transitions out of a nearly decade-long conflict.
Torture and poor judicial practices are widespread, says the report [.pdf], released Monday by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).
The report claims that the 2,953 civilian deaths it attributed to violence in 2010 were mostly carried out by insurgent and terrorist groups.
It stressed that minorities, women, and children suffered disproportionately from these abuses.
While there have been improvements in some areas of human rights, many challenges remain and some areas were actually worse off in 2010 than previous war-torn years.
“Particularly women’s rights levels and standards have gone down. They suffer from widespread violence, especially from domestic violence,” Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told IPS.
“There is little legislation to prevent this from occurring and the criminal code in Iraq almost encourages these crimes. There needs to be laws in the region against domestic violence,” Colville said.
The treatment of minorities was also heavily covered in the report.
Samer Muscati, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, told IPS,“Minorities have suffered hugely since 2003. We have also released similar two reports explaining this, as have many rights agencies.”
“Kurds, Christians, Persians, and Yarsans are among some the groups targeted for violence. This rise is caused by general insecurity and a rise in religious extremism,” he said. “These groups are also targeted by desperate criminal gangs because they are believed to have huge wealth.”
The murder in August 2010 of Luay Barham al-Malik by kidnappers despite the fact that his family had paid a $15,000 ransom is just one example the report gives of this sort of criminal activity in the country.
According to the report, major problems plague law enforcement and the administration of justice in Iraq, especially respect for due process and the right to a fair trial.
While there has been some improvement in the brutal conditions within many detention facilities and prisons, incidents of cruelty and torture remain widely reported in the world’s press.
“An overreliance on confessions to convict encourages an atmosphere where the torture of detainees takes place,” the report said.
It also said that “widespread poverty, economic stagnation, lack of opportunities, environmental degradation, and an absence of basic services constitute ‘silent’ human rights violations that affect large sectors of the population.”
These abuses are often overshadowed by the more heavily publicized issues of terrorism and insurgency.
The report also cited the questionable March 2010 parliamentary elections and the ensuing nine-plus months of stalemate as one source of Iraq’s rights problems.
“It is believed that this fueled instability, but it also contributed to a degree of inactivity in relation to implementing reforms and other measures aimed at ensuring the protection and provision of human rights to the Iraqi population,” the report stated.
As Colville told IPS, “The report has a mixed scorecard that is slightly better than the 2007-2008 report, but it is still pretty appalling.”
Asked how the problem can be effectively tackled, Colville stated, “A functioning legal framework needs to be set but this is not all that needs to be done. Changing law isn’t enough. Society in Iraq must change too, and this will take time.”
“We hope that the government will also address their other issues, such as their rigorous use of the death penalty. This combined with the weakness of their system of law means there is a risk that many innocent civilians are being killed every year,” he added.
Muscati of Human Rights Watch said that “the international community needs to assist Iraq to improve its human rights.”
“The people also need to freely express themselves and be able to hold guilty persons accountable. A completely free press would also aid this,” he said. “This would make injustice more difficult to carry out without being seen by the Iraqi people and the international community.”
Asked by IPS if there was any realistic expectation that the situation would improve, Muscati responded, “I hope so, but it is hard to say with any sort of hope for accuracy. The situation is currently getting worse in many ways.
“The question is unanswerable — especially with the effects of the American forces’ withdrawal. One would hope, but the future of Iraq is truly anyone’s guess.”