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Can Iraq's PM tackle the issue of enforced disappearances?

Iraqi PM-designate Mustafa al-Kadhimi who is at the parliament for vote of confidence in Baghdad, Iraq makes a speech on 6 May 2020. [Iraqi Parliament / Handout - Anadolu Agency]
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi in Baghdad, Iraq on 6 May 2020 [Iraqi Parliament/Anadolu Agency]

Some 8,615 people have been forcibly disappeared in Iraq since 2017, with the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR)now working to discover their fate.

Dr Anas Akram Mohammed, member of the Board of Commissioners of the IHCHR, said often people are found in various detention facilities and prisons throughout the country, but there are many cases which remain unsolved.

"We are trying our best to increase the trust and cooperation with different security agencies to get information on any complaints the IHCHR has received," Akram explains.

Iraq has been under severe pressure since the 2003 US-led invasion and the subsequent sectarian conflict which left the country in ruins and its citizens demanding change.

Various reports have suggested that civilians, activists, and other peaceful dissidents have been abducted by Iraqi forces and other unknown armed militias. They have been held in secret detention centres through the country with no access to their family or lawyers and others have been secretly executed and buried in mass graves. Their families are given no details of their whereabouts.

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In January, Jasib Hattab Al Heliji spoke to AFHD about his missing son, Ali. The father of two was kidnapped on 8 October 2019 by armed militias loyal to the Iraqi government in Maysan province, Jasib explained. Ali was a human rights lawyer and civil rights activist; he also participated in the country's ongoing anti-government protests as well as representing demonstrators arrested during the protests.

"To date, I still have no information regarding my son's whereabouts," Jasib says months later. "I am worried about his fate." He called on the Lawyers' Union to demand authorities disclose details of the fate of his son, however, no attorney or judicial official has dared take on his case out of fear of retaliation from militias.

Twenty-two-year-old journalist Oussama Muthana Abbas was forcibly disappeared on 3 January after returning from Tahrir Square. He was covering anti-government protests which restarted in the capital, rallying against corruption, poor public services, and unemployment. His family told AFDH that he has not been registered in any of the country's state prisons and his whereabouts remain unknown.

At least two people have already been killed in the renewed anti-government protests in Baghdad. These deaths are the first since Iraq's new Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi was sworn into office in May. Scores of people were also injured after plain clothe officers fired live ammunition towards demonstrators protesting in Tahrir Square.

In a statement at the time of the unrest, AFDH said: "There cannot be a repeat of last year's deadly crackdown. We call upon the Iraqi security forces to stop the use of violence against protesters: including human rights activists, journalists, paramedics, journalists, and other persons with disabilities. The excessive use of force against protesters and the arrests and abductions of thousands is a grave violation of international and human rights laws, therefore serious measures must be taken to ensure those responsible are held accountable for these abuses."

Thirty human rights organisations, including AFDH, have since signed a petition calling for the end of enforced disappearances in Iraq and calling on the authorities in Iraq to release information about mission persons and immediately release those detained without charge and who are held in secret prisons.

The petition also demanded the complete deconstruction of armed militias in Iraq, who operate outside the framework of the legal and state structures.

Reports indicate that Iraq has the highest number of missing persons in the world, and this is ongoing.

Although Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi ordered the Ministry of Interior to release details of the whereabouts of thousands of civilians who were abducted during the war against Daesh, authorities have repeatedly failed to comply.

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance states that"no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance," and"each State Party shall take the necessary measures to ensure that enforced disappearance constitutes an offence under its criminal law."

Al-Kadhimi must put an end to enforced disappearances and ensure that Iraqi authorities undergo an impartial investigation that security forces and other third party members and militias involved in this unlawful act are brought to justice.

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