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Reserved seats for minorities a must before Iraq election law comes into effect

2 October 2008

Minority Rights Group International on Thursday expressed serious concern that a new Iraqi draft election law, which paves the way for provincial polls to take place soon, does not provide guaranteed seats for minorities.

In a letter to the Iraqi President, MRG calls for a special provision to be made to guarantee reserved seats for ethnic and religious minorities before the law comes into effect. Provincial elections in Iraq are expected to be held before the end of January 2009.

An earlier version of the election law had provided for reserved seats for minorities but this provision was removed during the final session of the parliamentary debate.

“MRG research across the world shows that in many cases the only way for small minority communities to achieve representation in elected bodies is through a system of reserved seats,” says MRG’s director Mark Lattimer.

“This will have very serious consequences for minorities in Iraq; not only will they find it more difficult to have a voice in provincial government, but it also sends a negative signal about the desire to integrate minorities into the new Iraq,” he adds.

Minorities have been fleeing Iraq in large numbers since the events of 2003. According to UNHCR figures some 20 per cent of the Iraqi refugees in Syria are members of minorities – this is considerably above their proportion of the Iraqi population.

More recent MRG research shows that despite Iraqi government calls for refugees to return, many fear doing so, having fled because they received threats from militant groups who told them that there was no place for non-Muslims in Iraq.

“The special provision will make minorities feel they are an integral and valued part of Iraqi society. It will also allow minorities to have a voice in political processes and influence decision-making on issues that directly affect them.”

Notes to the Editor

  • Seats for minorities were guaranteed in Article 50 of the previous draft of the election law before it was removed during the final session in the Council of Representatives on September 24th.
  • For further information on minorities in electoral processes see Electoral systems and the protection and participation of minorities (MRG 2006) and for information on minorities in Iraq see Assimilation, Exodus, Eradication: Iraq’s minority communities since 2003 (MRG 2007).
  • See statement by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Iraq
  • See statement by Assyrian Council of Europe
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.
  • Interview opportunities are available with:
    • Mark Lattimer, MRG Executive Director
    • Layla Al Roomi, Spokesperson for the Mandaeans Human Rights Organisation

To set up interviews, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].