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Durable peace in Iraq requires real participation from all communities

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An end to ongoing conflict in Iraq depends on securing genuine participation in government from all of Iraq’s different ethnic and religious communities. Such are the recommendations of Minority Rights Group International (MRG) as it launched the Arabic version of its report ‘Building Democracy in Iraq’, designed to promote grass root debate both within Iraq and the wider Middle East about the constitutional future of Iraq. As the newly formed Iraqi Governing Council attempts to consolidate its authority, ordinary Iraqis may have to wait months if not years before having a say in how their country is governed.

According to Minority Rights Group International, rapid transition towards a representative Iraqi led and administered government is an essential step in bringing to an end the continuing conflict, which has now seen the killing of over thirty US troops and an unknown number of Iraqis since 1 May. Continuing conflict has potentially damaging consequences for long-term development and democratization, as full transition to Iraqi governance and administration slips down the list of coalition priorities. A representative Iraqi government must be allowed to operate without interference and be shown to be free from undue manipulation or influence from the coalition or other international actors.

The human rights group emphasised lack of political or civil organization in Iraq, failure to control armed and well trained militia groups and the likelihood of revenge killings, as potentially sustaining a situation of insecurity and high alert, under which transition to democracy will prove difficult. In its report, Minority Rights Group International highlights the need to promote constitutional options that minimise inter-community tension and address outstanding grievances, for example between Arabs and displaced Kurds returning to Mosul and Kirkuk following a policy of ‘Arabization’ since 1991.

Mark Lattimer, Director of Minority Rights Group International and co-author of its report, said: ‘The current situation is extremely precarious and given Iraq’s history of extreme ethnic and religious discrimination, ethnic cleansing and gross human rights violations under Saddam Hussein, the danger of ignoring the need for redress should not be under-estimated…a legitimate and representative Iraqi regime must be established as soon as possible with participation from all stake holders in Iraqi society to protect against this possibility.’

The Minority Rights Group International report emphasizes that to establish stability, the people of Iraq must decide on the structure and form of their own democracy, rather than having a system and constitution imposed upon them. A constitution-making process must be based on consultation and participation, in which all Iraq’s ethnic and religious communities are represented. A new constitution should conform to international human rights standards and establish equality before the law.

Mr. Lattimer stated ‘The perceived lack of legitimacy of the occupying powers requires now a stronger role for the United Nations and regional institutions. The coalition must allow democracy to begin to function with assistance from the broader international community.’

Notes for editors

  • MRG’s report ‘Building Democracy in Iraq‘ is based on in-depth interviews with internationally-renowned experts in conflict prevention, transitional administration, human rights and constitutional law.
  • The report presents seven ground rules for preventing conflict and building inclusive democracy in Iraq, including:
    • The design of an electoral system which requires candidates for President or other federal office to gain support across the different communities and parts of Iraq
    • Special measures to counteract long-standing discrimination against the Shi’a and against the Kurds and other minorities, including promoting their participation in central as well as regional government and in public life
    • Consideration of a federal structure for Iraq, taking particular account of the long-standing aspirations of the Kurds for self-government
    • The deployment of human rights monitors across Iraq during the transitional phase
    • Implementation of a major programme to facilitate the voluntary return or resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons
    • The need for any external peace-keeping forces to have a clear UN mandate and be international in composition to ensure credibility and neutrality in the eyes of the Iraqi people.
  • Expert contributors include:
    • Max van der Stoel – former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iraq (1991-1999), former Dutch Foreign Minister and OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (1992-2001).
    • Asma Jahangir – UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions, co-founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Millennium Peace Prize laureate.
    • Gudmundur Alfredsson – Professor and Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at Lund University in Sweden.
    • Yash Ghai – Sir Y. K. Pao Professor of Public Law at the University of Hong Kong, and Chair of the Kenyan Constitutional Review Commission.
    • Donald Horowitz – James B. Duke Professor of Law and Political Science at Duke University School of Law (USA), and author of Ethnic Groups in Conflict.
  • The report ‘Building Democracy in Iraq’ by Yash Ghai, Mark Lattimer and Yahia Said, is available online in English and Arabic.

For interviews, further information or copies of ‘Building Democracy in Iraq’ in Arabic or English, please contact the MRG Press Office on press@minorityrights.org.

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