UN chief Antonio Guterres scolds Iraq over protesters' deaths

Secretary-General spoke out over deaths committed by security forces

Iraqi anti-riot police stand guard while anti-government protesters gather for a demonstration in Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019. Tens of thousands of people, many of them young, unemployed men, thronged city squares and blocked main streets in Baghdad and Beirut in an unprecedented, spontaneous revolt against their leaders. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday criticised Iraqi security forces for killing protesters and appealed for restraint from governments across the world who are under pressure for reform.

In remarks addressing a wave of demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon but also in Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America, Mr Guterres said economic issues, especially political corruption, was at the root of public anger.

And though he said no two countries were the same he singled out Iraq for its bad handling of protests earlier this month.

“We deeply regret the number, the large number of people that have been killed,” he told reporters at UN headquarters in New York.

“According to our preliminary findings, there were, indeed, substantial violations of human rights that took place and need to be clearly denounced and condemned.”

The UN Assistance Mission to Iraq said on Tuesday said there had been serious abuses by government forces in response to demonstrations between October 1-9.

More than 150 people were killed, mostly in Baghdad, according to the government's own report, also released on Tuesday.

The findings appear to have done nothing to change the behaviour of those involved. Renewed demonstrations in Iraq on Friday claimed the lives of another two dozen people, with forces firing live rounds and tear gas.

Asked about Lebanon, where largely peaceful protests calling for the resignation of the government have been ongoing for more than a week, Mr Guterres said: “Our message has been quite active to all parties. They must solve their problems through dialogue.”

But it is clear that people are hurting – even in countries where there are not protests – and “there is a growing deficit of trust between people and political establishments, and rising threats to the social contract,” the UN chief said.

“Security forces must act with maximum restraint, in conformity with international law And I call on protesters to follow the examples of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and other champions of non-violent change. There can be no excuse for violence – from any quarter.”