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Discrimination, threats and violence still prevent Iraq’s minorities from accessing public services – MRG’s new report

28 November 2011

Proper access to employment, health care or education, or the safe practice of culture and religion, are far from reality for many minorities in Iraq due to ethnic, political or religious prejudice, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says in its new report launched today. The London-based human rights organization says legal and policy changes are needed to reduce discrimination and politically-motivated attacks and improve minorities’ access to public services.

In the report Iraq’s Minorities: Participation in Public Life, based on an original survey carried out among 11 minority communities in six key provinces, MRG found that minorities are facing difficulties in all spheres of religious and public life.

‘Many members of minorities in Iraq find themselves effectively in ghettos as they are excluded from whole areas of public life. Greater dialogue, reconciliation and the development of a comprehensive legal framework must be ongoing to have real impact,’ says Chris Chapman, MRG’s Head of Conflict Prevention Programme.

According to the report, the right to worship remains fraught for all minority groups. Only 47 per cent of all religious minorities felt safe visiting places of worship. They may also fear wearing religious symbols publicly, especially minority women, who often need to protect themselves from harassment by hiding their religious affiliation.

‘The sad fact that minorities still need to camouflage their identity implies they are often ignored or discriminated in public life,’ says Louis Climis, Vice-Chairman of the Iraqi Minorities Council (IMC). ‘We need to strengthen our legal system to safeguard and implement minority rights.’

Fear remains the highest among the Christian minority. Since the October 2010 attack on a Christian church in Baghdad, 1,000 to 4,000 Iraqi Christian families alone left their home town immediately, seeking refuge in other parts of Iraq.

MRG lists key barriers to minorities accessing employment. Among the worst affected are those whose identity cards and official documents have still not been expedited by authorities, such as Faili Kurds, Palestinians and Turkmen. Christian and Yezidi shopkeepers, who were allowed to trade alcohol under Saddam Hussein’s regime, have been left with nothing after extremists had destroyed their shops because their services were considered un-Islamic. Sometimes minorities seeking employment also suffer from discrimination because of their political affiliation or are subject to gender-based harassment.

In the Nineveh Plains, where many minorities live, services are poor because the area is contested by opposing political blocks. In rural areas, a hospital or a medical centre can be up to 100 km away and travel time is increased by the numerous checkpoints that must be negotiated en route. One Turkmen woman said that during her labour on the way to hospital she was stopped at a checkpoint for over an hour. Lack of money can also prevent poor minority members from travelling long distances to reach services.

As of 2010, one in four Iraqis does not have access to potable water. To MRG, 71 per cent of the minority survey respondents said the same. Minorities are especially vulnerable in conflict-stricken areas when access to water and electricity supplies is targeted. Since this summer, 12,000 Shabak people have been left without water and the authorities still have not addressed the issue.

Distance, costs and fear of terrorism are among the barriers preventing young people from attending schools. Half of the survey respondents reported that the high costs of travelling the long route and anxiety at checkpoints prevented them from accessing education. Since last year’s bomb attack at a checkpoint in Nineveh against school buses carrying Christian students to a university, many students are staying at home out of fear.

The report also highlights additional difficulties minority women face because of their gender. Minority women are often reluctant to travel outside their homes because of the physical or verbal harassment they face at the workplace or elsewhere; many even experience it within their communities. Abduction and forced marriage are also particular risks in northern Iraq, Yezidi activists reported.

‘Minorities in Iraq have distinct religions and cultures, but the existence of all of them has been threatened. Their effective participation in public life could enhance the possibility of peaceful coexistence between different peoples in Iraq,’ says Chapman.

Notes to editors

  • Interview opportunities:
    • London – Chris Chapman, Head of Conflict Prevention Programme, Minority Rights Group International.
    • Iraq – Louis Climis, Vice-Chairman, Iraqi Minorities Council (IMC).
  • Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.
  • The report, Iraq’s minorities: participation in public life, is available here.

For a copy of the report or to arrange interviews please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].