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Minority rights crucial to calm tensions in post-election Iraq

27 January 2005

Despite the possibility of a poor election turn-out by minorities including Sunni Arabs, a new Iraqi government must guarantee minority rights and minority representation to protect against further communal conflict. Minority Rights Group International (MRG) warns that without such guarantees, a serious upsurge in violence could follow the 30 January elections.

Also MRG stresses the need for ‘clear assurances’ of minority rights by elected National Assembly members, as well as measures to ensure that all Iraqi’s communities can play a full role in drafting a new permanent Iraqi constitution. MRG suggests that such confidence-building measures and assurances could go some way towards defusing the tension and allaying fears of political domination by the Shia Muslim majority.

As there is no requirement under the Transitional Administrative Law that government ministers be members of the National Assembly, MRG has suggested that leaders from under-represented communities are invited into the Government and the consitution-making process, to reflect what have been widely acknowledged as far from ideal electoral conditions. According to MRG, the election results must be measured against the current climate of insecurity and intimidation, conditions which could leave minorities excluded and the mandate of a newly elected government in doubt.

‘Elections are not a panacea to end violence, in fact they can be very divisive when there are minority rights issues involved’, stated MRG Head of International Advocacy, Clive Baldwin. ‘Unrepresentative government that pays little attention to minority concerns could cause already strained religious and political relations to snap’, stated Clive.

MRG stated that poor electoral participation by some communities should not be considered indicative of unwillingness to engage with the political process by those communities as a whole. Occupation conditions and fear of violence at the ballot boxes, could heavily influence voter turnout.

MRG has long highlighted the need for the government and a future permanent Iraqi Constitution to respect minority rights to ensure that communities can live and cooperate together in a climate of mutual rights, participation and respect.

However, according to Clive Baldwin, communal peace and stability could be further jeopardised by an ill-advised political process that allows previously oppressed communities to take power without offering any firm guarantee of rights and representation for other communities.

Notes for editors

  1. Voters will elect a National Assembly of 275 members with responsibility to both appoint a new government and draft a new constitution. Iraqis living in the Kurdish-ruled region of northern Iraq will also select a new parliament.The National Assembly will elect a president and two deputy presidents who will name a new prime minister and Cabinet subject to approval of the assembly. Some 6,000 candidates are standing for election to the National Assembly. The new government will remain in office for 11 months. Once the permanent constitution is approved by the voters in a referendum, another election will take place in December.
  2. The 1997 census recorded a population of just over 22 million in Iraq. Due to a lack of credible census information, the following figures are approximate: Sunni Arabs (17 per cent), Shi’i Arabs (55 per cent), Kurds (15-22 per cent), Turkomans (3-4 per cent), Assyrians and other Christian minorities (3-4 per cent). For further information, see Building Democracy in Iraq, by Yash Ghia, Mark Lattimer and Yahia Said, published by Minority Rights Group International (2003).
  3. MRG, in partnership with Christian Aid, is currently developing educational materials to be used to be used by Iraqi lawyers, community groups and civilians to raise awareness and provide practical information on the constitution-building process.
  4. Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide and to promote co-operation and understanding between communities. Our activities are focused on international advocacy, training, publishing and outreach. We work with 130 organizations in nearly 60 countries.

For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].