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Iraq: UN human rights official urges stronger action to protect civilians

7 June 2011 – A senior United Nations official has called on the Iraqi Government to do more to protect civilians from violence, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported today.

Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, welcomed the Iraqi Government’s convening of a conference this week to address rights problems, but also “condemned the numerous cases of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and alleged torture that have been reported throughout Iraq,” OHCHR said.

“It is important that the Government does all it can, to ensure that civilians are protected from the ongoing violence, and that any person suspected of perpetrating acts of violence is held accountable according to the law,” Mr. Šimonović said at the end of a 10-day visit to Iraq.

“As a signal of the seriousness of its intent to tackle the problem, I urge the Government to complete ratification of the Convention Against Torture as soon as possible,” he said.

“Respecting human rights, including while countering terrorism is both a moral and practical thing to do. If the fight against terrorism makes martyrs of terrorists, it backfires.”

He reiterated that torture is unequivocally prohibited under international law and cannot be condoned under any circumstances, and raised concerns about the protection of civilians and the deteriorating human rights situation of women and religious and ethnic minorities, as well as attacks on freedom of expression.

Concerning the demonstrations that are taking place in various parts of Iraq, Mr. Šimonović noted that many of the protesters’ demands centre on legitimate calls for improved access to basic services, jobs and better living conditions.

“Being criticized by the media or by protesters on the street is something that no government likes but as long as protests are peaceful and the government is democratic, they should lead to dialogue and not confrontation,” he said.

During meetings in Erbil with officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Mr. Šimonović “raised concerns relating to the protection of women and freedom of expression,” OHCHR said.

Mr. Šimonović welcomed the Government’s intention to develop a national action plan to implement the recommendations of United Nations human rights mechanisms, OHCHR said.

In a statement sent to a conference discussing the draft national action plan, Mr. Šimonović said:

“The discussions have been fruitful; many tough issues have been raised and considered; and recommendations have been made for addressing the challenges facing Iraq and to ensure that the basic rights of all Iraq’s people are better protected and respected in the future.”

“It is the obligation of governments to ensure that the rights of all citizens, without discrimination, are respected and protected. The events in North Africa and the Middle East have shown that the more governments disregard elementary rights, the more determined the response of the people becomes to repression of their freedoms,” he said in the message to the conference.

Earlier this week, Ad Melkert, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, congratulated the group for including all sectors of society – including the Government, the judiciary, academia and civil society.

Mr. Melkert also welcomed the Government's commitment to start work on a national action plan, and he voiced hope that an independent human rights commission will soon be formed.

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