The UNAMI Human Rights Office, which also represents the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Iraq, pursues an overall strategy to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights throughout the country. The work is guided by the principle that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.
In accordance with the mandate provided by UN Security Council Resolution 2576 (2021) UNAMI Human Rights Office (the Office) works to support the efforts of the Government of Iraq to promote accountability, protect human rights and strengthen the rule of law. As part of its core function the Office is also responsible for implementing two specialised United Nations protection mandates concerning conflict-related sexual violence and child protection.
The Office carries out its activities in coordination with the federal Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Authorities, and works closely to support civil society organisations, human rights defenders and national human rights institutions.
The Chief of UNAMI Human Rights Office serves as Country Representative of OHCHR and works with other members of the United Nations Country Team in Iraq to ensure that the human rights-based approach is central to all UN programmatic planning and implementation.
The Office has international and national staff working in Baghdad, Basra, Erbil, Kirkuk, and Mosul. The Office monitors, documents and reports on the human rights situation in Iraq and engages in evidence-based advocacy with the Government of Iraq and the Kurdish Regional Authorities through ongoing engagement, technical support, confidential dialogue and public reporting.
The work of the Office is aimed to promote and protect human rights in the following priority areas:
- Strengthening rule of law and accountability for human rights violations
- Enhancing equality and countering discrimination
- Enhancing and Protecting Civic Space and People's Participation
- Prevention and protection of human rights in situations of violence
- Child Protection
- Conflict-Related Sexual Violence
Examples of recent work include:
Freedom of Expression and Peaceful Assembly
The Office monitors freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and promotes accountability for violations of these rights. In response to the mass demonstrations which began in various governorates across Iraq in October 2019, the Office published five human rights reports, including a comprehensive report in August 2020 titled Human Rights Violations and Abuses in the Context of Demonstrations in Iraq October 2019 to April 2020.and more recently: Update on Demonstrations in Iraq: Accountability for Human Rights Violations and Abuses by Unidentified Armed Elements in May 2021. These reports detailed human rights violations linked to the demonstrations by state security forces including the following: excessive use of force and arbitrary detention; patterns of targeted killings, disappearances, abduction and ill-treatment/torture; and violent attacks on demonstration sites. It also outlined intimidation and harassment attributed to ‘armed groups with various links to the state targeting persons linked to protests and political activism. The reports made a number of recommendations to the Government, including with respect to accountability.
The Office also works closely with the Regional Government of Kurdistan on the right to freedom of expression. See Freedom of Expression in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq released in May 2021 for details.
In addition, the Office engages with the Government on legislation impacting fundamental freedoms, including the Cybercrimes, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information bills. The Office also engages with social media actors with respect to fundamental freedoms in the online space.
Administration of Justice
The Office continues to promote accountability for ISIL crimes, including by monitoring the judicial hearings of alleged ISIL defendants. The programme aims to support the Government to strengthen and build a fair justice system as a key element of a democratic state that generates trust in its institutions, in turn strengthening social cohesion and resilience against violent extremism. In January 2020, the Office released its report on Human Rights in the Administration of Justice in Iraq: Trials under the anti-terrorism laws and implications for justice, accountability and social cohesion in the aftermath of ISIL. In January 2021, in partnership with the High Judicial Council, the office launched a public awareness campaign through posters and social media using cartoons that visualize and explain the main procedures and rights of suspects during criminal investigations in line with Iraqi laws.
In addition, the Office established a systematic detention monitoring programme in July 2019. It aims to support the Government of Iraq’s efforts to strengthen the protection of rights for suspects and persons in detention, identifying avenues to effectively prevent torture and ill-treatment.See Human Rights in the Administration of Justice in Iraq: legal conditions and procedural safeguards to prevent torture and ill-treatment released in August 2021 for details.
UNAMI and the Office also provides support to the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh / ISIL as mandated by Security Council Resolution 2522 (2020).
The Office works to promote respect for women's rights and adoption of policies ensuring accountability for violence against women including gender-based violence. Through its monitoring activities, incidents of violence against women and girls, including gender related killings and other forms of violence are regularly documented and reported. In addition, the Office advocates to strengthen the legal protection of victims of domestic violence and to bring legal provisions into compliance with international human rights standards. The Office continues its efforts to coordinate advocacy for the finalizing and enactment of an Anti-Domestic Violence Bill.
On 2 March 2021, the Office launched ‘Breaking the Silence’, a short film aiming to advance the discussion on efforts to criminalize domestic violence in Iraq, formalize an effective support system for survivors and hold perpetrators accountable for crimes committed inside the home.
COVID-19 and the Right to Health:
The Human Rights Office has led an awareness raising campaign on the human rights impact of COVID-19 and coordinated advocacy on continued health protection measures using platforms including social media, public murals, posters, music, and postcards.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office conceptualized and continues to implement an illustration-based campaign to raise awareness about the human rights dimensions of COVID-19 and to promote compliance with COVID-19 prevention measures across Iraq. As the virus progressed, and new issues and health measures emerged, the Office led efforts to evolve the messaging, in consultation with WHO, UNICEF and UNAMI PIO.
The campaign is built on several different mutually reinforcing elements, which include rap songs by Mr Legendary, Raz and Golden Nenous, 20 cartoons, 35 murals, 28500 posters, 3 videos and 10.000 postcards which are disseminated on various social media channels, in person and on information boards. The entire campaign is published in three languages, Arabic, Kurdish and English, with posters also translated into Avesta, Assyrian, Macho, Mandean, Turkmen and Yazidi, and has reached over half a million viewers on UNAMI social media alone.
Rights of Minorities
The Office works to support the Government of Iraq in its efforts to ensure the protection and promotion of the rights of national, ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities and other communities of Iraq. As part of these efforts the Office facilitates two minorities working groups, whose members include representatives of Iraq’s diverse minority communities, civil society, the Government of Iraq, the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, Regional Kurdish Authorities and the Independent Board for Human Rights in Kurdistan. The working groups provide a platform to identify practical steps to implement recommendations issued by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in December 2018.
To generate public dialogue on minority and human right issues, in 2019 the Office partnered with Iraqi TV production companies to commission a series of short films on the theme of human rights and rights of minorities that were showcased at the 3By3 Film Festival in Baghdad. The Office held 33 other events where the leading films were screened in 17 of Iraq’s 18 governorates during a six-month long festival tour.
During the most recent Universal Periodic Review of Iraq by the Human Rights Council, Iraq accepted a recommendation to adopt legislation to enable the investigation and punishment of religion based on religion or belief. In 2021 UNAMI will provide technical support to ensure that this legislation is in line with Iraq’s international obligations and will engage with the government to support its implementation.
Through its ongoing Peace Narratives Project, UNAMI is also engaging with local communities to document how locally-led youth initiatives can address shared human rights concerns across all communities, and to encourage mutual co-operation and exchange of experiences between communities to develop localized solutions. By uniting local activists from different communities across the country the project aims to strengthen human rights advocacy outcomes for all Iraqis.
The Office supports government efforts to resolve the fate and whereabouts of missing persons, including through the facilitation of engagement with the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances and regular reporting.
In August 2020, the Office released a report entitled ‘Enforced Disappearances from Anbar Governorate 2015 – 2016: Accountability for the victims and the right to truth’. The recommendations encourage the acknowledgement of enforced disappearances, accountability for victims, the establishment of a strong domestic legal framework against enforced disappearances, compliance with procedural safeguards, and close cooperation with UN specialized mechanisms. The detailed redress and accountability framework established in the recommendations can also be used countrywide to address other cases of enforced disappearances in Iraq.
The Office coordinates the implementation of UNAMI’s child protection activities in accordance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions on Children and Armed Conflict and in support of the Mission’s broader human rights mandate. The work is focused on the protection and well-being of children and mainstreaming child rights in all aspects of the Mission’s activities, policies and strategic planning processes. This includes co-chairing with UNICEF the Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting on Children and Armed Conflict.
Promoting the right to education is a key area of focus. Equality of access to education enables the fulfilment of other human rights, and also contributes to long-term peace, stability and improved economic and social outcomes. The Office has published a series of reports documenting obstacles children and adult learners continue to face in accessing education, particularly in territories formerly under the control of ISIL, and will continue to engage with the government to support its implementation of the reports’ recommendations.
A first report, the Right to Education in Iraq: Part One - The legacy of ISIL territorial control on access to education, published in February 2020, focuses on access to post-primary education for children and young adults (above the age of 18) who lived in areas under ISIL control between 2014 and 2017, including Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). In early 2021, HRO released a second report on Obstacles to Girl’s education after ISIL which highlights the indispensable role of educated girls in post-conflict stabilization, transition and recovery.
Conflict-Related Sexual Violence
UNAMI Human Rights Office oversees the implementation the UN’s conflict-related sexual violence mandate in accordance with relevant Security Council Resolutions. The work is carried out in close collaboration with the National Protection Cluster and Gender Based Violence Sub-Clusters to assist and support in collecting information as part of the Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Arrangement under Security Council Resolution 1960 (2010). UNAMI carries out advocacy and capacity-building for partners to address conflict-related sexual violence, ensuring a holistic approach to the mandate implementation, including support to survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.
For more information about the work of OHCHR in Iraq and Iraq’s international human rights obligations, please see the following links:
For key human rights documents to which Iraq is a party in English, Arabic, and Kurdish, please see the following links: