UN says Iraqi government violated human rights in protest response

Security forces used excessive force that killed 149 demonstrators, report says

FILE PHOTO: Men carry an injured demonstrator at a protest during a curfew, three days after the nationwide anti-government protests turned violent, in Baghdad, Iraq October 4, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani/File Photo
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The Iraqi government committed serious human rights violations and abuses during the recent anti-government protests that killed 149 civilians, the UN said on Wednesday.

Nationwide demonstrations erupted against high unemployment, poor public services and rampant corruption that prompted a violent crackdown from security authorities earlier this month.

In a report published by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) late on Monday said there was evidence that security forces had used excessive force against demonstrators.

"The number of dead, the extent and scale of injuries inflicted on demonstrators, all suggest that Iraqi security forces have used excessive force against demonstrators in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq,” said the report by the UN Human Rights Office.

Demonstrators blamed corruption and political infighting for failing to meet public demands and called for an improvement to the standards of their lives.

UNAMI conducted hundreds of interviews with human rights monitors, journalists, civil society activists, family members of those killed in the protests to finalise its report.

Journalists told the UNAMI they were subjected to arrests and harassment for covering the demonstrations while human rights activist said they received death threats not to participate in the demonstrations.

"The loss of life, serious injuries and harm resulting from the violence during the demonstrations was both tragic and preventable," said Danielle Bell, UNAMI's human rights chief.

"Concrete steps to enable peaceful assemblies and protect those participating should be a priority."

The report portrays a vital step towards accountability, UN special representative to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said in a statement.

“I urge that further steps be taken to prosecute and punish those responsible,” she said, adding that “Iraq has come a long way, it is essential not to further undermine its many achievements”.

“A climate of intimidation and fear is unworthy of Iraq’s potential as an open and democratic society,” Mrs Hennis-Plasschaert said.

The report came as an Iraqi government committee investigating the demonstrations published a report stating that 149 civilians and eight security forces were killed because “excessive force and live fire” was used by the armed forces.

Most of the protesters were aged between 15 and 25, and about 70 per cent of the deaths were caused by bullet wounds to the head or chest.

The investigation committee also found evidence of snipers shooting protesters from inside a building in central Baghdad.

“During our field investigation we found shells from sniper fire inside an abandoned building near a petrol station in central Baghdad,” the report said.

The panel urged the dismissal of Baghdad’s operations commander and other senior security officials.

It condemned riot police for failing to impose a curfew, which panel members believe intensified the violence.

“Civilian casualties were the direct cause of weak commandments and control by security and military officials,” the report said.

Calls have been made on social media for more rallies on Friday, the anniversary of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi's government taking office.