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Statement to the CERD – Review of the Periodic Report of Iraq

21 August 2014

85th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) Geneva, 11-29 August 2014
Informal meeting with NGOs
Monday 18 August 2014

Thank you Mister Chairperson,

I speak on behalf of Minority Rights Group International (MRG), an international NGO working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide. MRG has been working on Iraq for over 10 years, with a number of partner organizations on the ground documenting the situation of the diverse ethnic and religious minority groups living in Iraq, and promoting their rights. In the prolongation of this work, we have submitted an alternative report to the Committee, which contains a number of findings and recommendations to improve the situation of minorities in Iraq, and I’ll briefly go through its main points during this oral intervention. Years of discrimination and difference in treatments to the detriment of minority groups by the central government and local authorities, have resulted in an imbalance in access to social and economic rights, in a lack of political representation, and in a situation of chronic insecurity. I will address first the impact of the discriminatory practices on the enjoyment of social, economic, civil and political rights, and I will then turn to the failure of the state to guarantee right to life, security and adequate protection to its minorities.

Before going further, I should point out that I will be happy to pass on your questions and comments to my director Mark Lattimer, who is in charge of our Iraq programme, and who will be in a position to answer them and other questions arising in the course of the discussion during the informal lunch-time briefing later today.

I would like to start with two preliminary points:

  • First, as you all know, since the submission of this report, a number of important developments have taken place in Iraq. What is now known as the Islamic State (IS) has taken over a growing number of cities in the North of the country since June. We believe these tragic developments make this review even more timely, and even more needed for the preservation of Iraq’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. While a lot of attention has been devoted to the crimes perpetrated by the Islamic State, little has been said on the Iraqi government’s responsibility under the Convention when it comes to protecting its ethnoreligious minorities. MRG will share suggestions of recommendations in that respect.
  • Secondly, I must stress from the outset that, in Iraq, many of the minorities, like the Yezidi, the Shabak and the Chaldo-Assyrians, are ethnoreligious groups. We are speaking about ancient communities, often geographically localized, characterized by endogamous marriages and sharing a common language and a common culture, who face discrimination and persecution on ethnic as well as on religious grounds. In the context of Iraq, ethnic and religious belongings are closely linked.

I will now turn briefly to the first category of violations of the Convention: discriminatory laws, policies and practices entailing unequal enjoyment of economic, social, civil and political rights. I would like to make three short points.

Firstly, in our alternative report, we highlight blatant inequalities in terms of poverty rate, access to education, to healthcare, access to employment, to the detriment of ethnoreligious minorities like the Yezidi, the Shabak or the Turkmen. We believe there is a need for the Iraqi authorities to actively implement equal opportunities policies to ensure that minorities have equal access to services and employment opportunities.

Secondly, we think that this review is an opportunity to address the long-lasting plight of Faili Kurds who were massively deprived of their nationality in 1980. Despite a law passed in 2006, establishing their right to regain Iraqi nationality, the process to obtain documentation is slow and cumbersome. Eight years after the adoption of this law, hundreds of Faili Kurd families remain stateless. This situation has a tremendous impact on their ability to access work, attend school, access basic services and participate in political life. Iraq must review the system to speed up the process of re-nationalisation of persons previously denaturalised on political, religious or ethnic grounds.

Thirdly, MRG invites the Committee to address the situation of two communities who are particularly suffering from social stigma, political marginalization and economic exclusion, namely the Roma community and Black Iraqis. As shown in the report, the Roma and Black Iraqis face disproportionate rates of unemployed, they have little access to the education system, and they are ostracized from society at large. While Black Iraqis represent a large number of people, they do not have a reserved seat in the Parliament. Living conditions in the Roma villages are among the most deplorable in all of the country. Many Roma settlements have been attacked in the past decade, but the government has not taken adequate steps to rebuild basic infrastructures. Neighbourhoods inhabited by black Iraqis are also characterized by extreme poverty and neglect, with a lack of clean water supply and proper sewage facilities. The government of Iraq has failed to implement any measures to address the historical and systematic nature of this discrimination. The Iraqi authorities should therefore allocate resources to building or restoring essential infrastructure in marginalized communities, such as those where Roma and Black Iraqis live, and institute special measures for these minorities registering poor levels of education.

Mister Chairman, distinguished members of the Committee,

I would finally like to address the pressing issue of the security risks faced by ethnoreligious minorities in Iraq. The current events are a tragic acceleration of a phenomenon that has started a decade ago. Since 2003, the escalation in violent attacks against minorities has caused many to leave the country en masse, or seek refuge in the Kurdistan region, where security is perceived to be greater. Communities like the Sabian Mandeans are even facing a risk of total extinction, with more than 90 per cent of this population having died or fled since 2003.

The reasons behind this phenomenon are straightforward. Persons belonging to minorities have been subjected to frequent threats, killings, bombings and kidnapping for a number of years. As highlighted in our report, these attacks have largely been met with impunity. Little progress has been made in identifying, investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of attacks on ethnoreligious communities. Minorities often feel unable to report incidents to police, fearing that the police have links to insurgent groups who could retaliate against those who report incidents.

The situation has considerably deteriorated since June this year, as the Islamic State and associated armed groups have taken over a number of cities in Iraq, including the country’s second largest city, Mosul. These armed groups also recently seized control of nearly all of Sinjar and Tal Afar districts in Nineveh Province, home of a large number of Yezidi, Turkmen, Shabak and Assyrian-Chaldean communities.

The Islamic State advance and related security events have prompted the displacement of over 1.2 million Iraqis since the start of the year, according to the UNHCR, including hundreds of thousands of Yezidis, Turkmen and Chaldo-Assyrians, who have been particularly targeted. More than half of them have found refuge in the Kurdistan region.

The Iraqi government must immediately act to ensure the protection of all minorities at risk in Iraq today. MRG would therefore like to add the following recommendations, which we see as instrumental in the context of the current crisis:

  • The Gov of Iraq should commit to the protection and re-settlement of minority IDPs created in the current conflict, in partnership with UNHCR and its other international partners
  • The Gov of Iraq should also commit, when circumstances permit, to the full restitution to minority communities of their former lands and homes, including in Mosul and the Nineveh plain, Sinjar and Tal Afar.
  • All units of the Iraqi armed forces should be organised on a strictly non-sectarian basis and remain within a chain of command that is transparent and accountable to the elected Iraqi Government and Council of Representatives.
  • The Gov of Iraq should draw up a comprehensive plan of action to address the urgent protection needs of all Iraq’s ethnic and religious minorities, including security and protection from crime, access to services, access to justice, reparation and resettlement, and public participation.

I thank you for your attention, and I look forward to hearing your comments and questions.

Download MRG’s Review of the Periodic Report of Iraq report submitted to the CERD.