Briefing to the UN Security Council by SRSG for Iraq Ján Kubiš New York, 22 May 2017 (As Prepared)
Distinguished members of the Security Council,
I have the honour to introduce the third report of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 7 of resolution 2299 (2016), as well as the fourteenth report of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 4 of resolution 2107 (2013) on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and property.
The days of the so-called ISIL caliphate in Iraq in are numbered, thanks to the bravery and patriotism of the Iraqi Security Forces – including the Popular Mobilization Forces, the Peshmerga, and the tribal volunteers as well as the endurance of the Iraqi people. The liberation of Mosul is imminent. Operations are shifting to the remaining areas and pockets of Da’esh presence including along the borders with Syria. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that the next step is to secure the Iraq-Syria border and to liberate west of Ninewa and Anbar governorates.
All progress notwithstanding, fighting remains a tremendous challenge, as Da’esh increasingly resorts to mercilessly using civilians as human shields, a last-gasp effort that reveals little more than the inherent inhuman barbarity of the terrorists that make up this so-called Caliphate. In front of this Council, I once again want to honor those who have sacrificed life or limb to promote a free, united Iraq and have bled to defend our common humanity.
The protection of civilians continues to be a fundamental imperative during the operations, as ordered by Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief al-Abadi and endorsed by political leaders, as well as the religious establishments. The Iraqi Security Forces including the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) and international coalition partners continuously adjust their tactics to limit the impact of their operations on civilians, even if that comes at the cost of prolonging a harsh, bitter campaign that continues to claim both civilian and military lives. Due credit must also be given to the Iraqi Security Forces in the liberated areas for seeking to avoid and prevent revenge attacks and other steps that incite sectarian tensions.
The 22 March meeting of the international counter-ISIL coalition in Washington, D.C. was clear reminder that we must maintain a dual focus on both the immediate challenges of defeating Daesh and on the post-liberation, stabilization and rehabilitation phase in Iraq. The meeting also stressed that long-term recovery would stem from good governance, provision of services, sound security arrangements for all communities, ensuring justice and the rights for all citizens, national and local reconciliation and accountability for crimes.
Continuous, substantial and sustainable support and assistance for Iraq from the international community, including its regional partners, is indispensable in the forthcoming period in particular to facilitate expeditious and voluntary return of IDPs to the liberated areas, to the conditions of security, law and order in line with humanitarian and human rights principles. In this regard, I welcome recent steps taken by a number of regional countries and organizations to enhance support for and cooperation with Iraq as i.a. confirmed during the recent Summit of the LAS and numerous top-level bilateral meetings there.
Although large-scale military operations against ISIL will hopefully conclude by the end of this year, the security environment will remain volatile and will be characterized by continued cowardly terrorist attacks by Da’esh, targeting civilians in many parts of the country. Whenever given than opportunity Daesh, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups will likely seek to tap into and deepen sectarian, tribal or ethnic divides, including by cooperating with criminal gangs.
This will require an appropriate response by the security forces. In that regard, a long-term, comprehensive reform of the security sector is imperative. I welcome the completion of a draft national strategy for security sector reform – an effort concluded with support from UNDP - and look forward to its approval by the National Security Council.
Among others, the implementation of the Popular Mobilisation Commission Law should proceed in a manner that strengthens non-sectarian, multi-religious and multi-ethnic character of the PMF, solidifies government control over them, and ensures democratic oversight and accountability.
Working towards a national settlement is vital to ensure Iraq’s longterm unity and stability. I am encouraged by the continuous commitment of the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) towards achieving a national settlement and by the efforts made thus far to promote the settlement at the national and regional levels. On 10 May, the Leadership Council of the INA re-confirmed that the fight against Da’esh must be accompanied by progress towards a political solution that is inclusive and reassuring to all citizens. I also acknowledge the long-awaited submission of the Iraqi Forces Coalition’s vision on the historic national settlement – to the Secretary-General during his trip to Iraq on 30 March – along with a confidence restoration initiative. At the broadly inclusive and representative “Turkmen Forum” held in Baghdad on 16 and 17 May that brought together Iraqi Turkmen groups and representatives of different political and sectarian affiliations, a consensus was achieved on a common Turkmen vision paper for national settlement based on mutual respect of equal rights and responsibilities within a united Iraq. Other groups, civil society and tribal elements continue sharing their respective visions on how and on what principles post Daesh Iraq will be rebuilt.
In addition to the efforts inside Iraq, during the last few months a series of meetings, some facilitated by regional countries, were also held outside Iraq, to encourage different Sunni leaders and groups to unite behind a vision for a post-Daesh Iraq. In their concluding statements participants emphasized the importance of unity, stability and security of Iraq, rejected any attempt to divide its land or its people. Although discussions and efforts to promote Iraq’s Sunnis’ unity have, in principle, been encouraged by Iraq’s Shia political forces, gatherings held outside the country have been strongly criticized. On 30 April, the Council of Representatives issued a resolution banning the presence of or participation by politicians and state officials in conferences inside or outside Iraq without the approval of Iraqi authorities.
I reiterate the commitment of the United Nations to help Iraqi partners to achieve an inclusive national settlement based on several guiding principles: respect for the Iraqi Constitution, citizenship, equal participation in the political process, rejection of and fighting against terrorism and rejection of sectarianism, among others. A sustainable solution would require taking into account concerns of all Iraqis, while building on existing, positive achievements since 2003, but also addressing the shortcomings of the past years that i.a created an environment conducive to the emergence and initial successes of Da’esh. One prominent issue in the post-liberation era is the voluntary, safe and dignified return of IDPs to their homes and the restoration of normalcy in these areas.
I am pleased to report that Iraqi counterparts but also international partners have expressed willingness to work with the United Nations to achieve peace, stability and security for all Iraqis. I encourage all national, regional and international partners to engage in supporting this process while I call upon the international partners to fully coordinate with the Government of Iraq and respect the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in Iraqi internal affairs.
National reconciliation can only succeed if it reflects the needs and expectations of the people, not only politicians. Women and youth, who make up more than half of Iraq’s population, are key constituencies. UNAMI has just concluded a project called “Iraq: Youth and Coexistence” implemented with a local partner, the Iraqi Al-Amal Association. We convened seven separate forums across the country: in Basra, Erbil, Najaf, Diyala, Sulaymanyah, Kirkuk, and Baghdad, bringing together over 750 young participants from all Iraqi provinces. These events involved different youth segments – such as students, young professionals, activists, persons with special needs, unemployed – invited with due consideration to gender balance, community representation, and geographic diversity.
The project concluded in a national conference in Baghdad on 20 May calling among others for separating religion from politics; enforcing the secular character for the state; putting an end to the sectarian quota system through legislation; reforming educational curricula for the promotion of the Iraqi identity, patriotism and the spirit of tolerance with particular reference to minority communities; strengthening the state’s control of arms and the rule of law; banning, monitoring and criminalizing religious hate speech; empowering the youth by lowering the age limit for presenting candidacy for elected office; empowering women, especially young women; eliminating factors that drive the population, especially minorities, to emigrate; encouraging the media to promote a culture of peace; and preventing outside interference in Iraq’s internal affairs. I hope that the aspirations expressed by the youth will endure in future cooperation that continues connecting young people willing to contribute actively in shaping Iraq’s future, and in setting an example for a national discourse that overcomes divisions and sectarianism and reminds the country’s political class of their responsibilities.
UNAMI has also continued its efforts to engage community and civil society leaders in a focused conversation about the post-Da’esh phase. Between November 2016 and March 2017, the mission convened six “Iraq After the Conflict” roundtables across Iraq, which sought to summarize the key challenges for Iraq after the defeat of ISIL. A national summit will bring 50 of these figures to Baghdad on 24 May, to consolidate the findings of the six roundtables.
I am encouraged by these and other grass root initiatives promoted by other parts of UN in Iraq, which amply demonstrate that all Iraqis – regardless of religion, sect, or ethnicity – share a common enthusiasm for unity and peaceful coexistence and for building together a better future for all.
The imminent defeat of Da’esh provides an urgent impetus to address the concerns of minorities, and enable their safe return to their homes. Minorities in Iraq continue to face existential challenges and need special attention, as also illustrated during the meeting of the Secretary-General with Yazidi leaders but also during my recent meetings with Christian political and religious leaders. Their demands include the establishment of a separate region/governorate/higher autonomy, protection by international community, deployment of UN forces in areas inhabited by Yazidis and Christians, arrangements that will enable Yazidis and Christians to defend themselves and protect their properties through the merging of security forces of the components with the National Security System. Other sets of requirements include recognizing the atrocities perpetrated against Yazidis and other minorities as genocide, amending laws, which have a racial and religious discriminatory nature, such as the Unified ID Card Law and article 26 in particular, which imposes Islam on minors; and other freedom-restricting laws, terminating the policies of marginalization in appointments.
In two days, the UN will participate in the Conference on the Protection of Victims of Ethnic and Religious Minorities in the Middle East, in Madrid. Following the adoption of the Paris Action Plan in September 2015 and with our encouragement, the Paris Action Plan has contributed to institution-building at both the federal and Kurdistan region levels in Iraq, including the creation of the Minority Department within the National Reconciliation Committee – which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office in Baghdad – and the Directorate of Peaceful Co-existence within the KRG Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs.
UNAMI is working on legislative and other reforms to ensure the respect and protection of the rights of Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious minority communities. The Mission has supported a committee of representatives of all ethnic and religious minority communities in Iraq to develop a package of legislative, institutional and policy reforms to promote the respect and protection of the rights of their communities. These reforms focus on security and political representation at the community level, educational curricula, and media access and representation. Among the reforms to emerge from this process is the Anti-Discrimination Bill, which is currently before the Council of Representatives. The bill aims to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, race, nationality, and ethnicity, among others. UNAMI has facilitated consultations with civil society organizations and Members of Parliament, in order to agree on a draft text.
The return of displaced persons to liberated areas must be a top priority for the Government of Iraq. I would like to express my continuing concern over the delay of return of displaced persons to areas liberated long ago such as Jurf al-Sakher or places in Diyala governorate. Also many hundreds of alleged disappearances that reportedly took place last year in al-Sejar and Saqlawiya in Anbar and at Razzaza checkpoint or this year in Taremia, remain unresolved with no updates provided by the Government of Iraq regarding the status of investigations despite UNAMI’s formal requests. Moreover, there are instances of disappearances as a result of vetting processes in the liberated areas. Lack of progress on the issue of return could affect the demographic composition and would undermine efforts towards national reconciliation, and settlement. I welcome the commitment of the Government of Iraq to facilitate the return of displaced persons. The United Nations stands ready to assist in any possible way to accelerate these processes, to support them through stabilization and rehabilitation projects, and to promote confidence among the different groups and tribes, including through transitional justice and accountability.
The unprecedented level of military coordination and cooperation in fighting Daesh between the federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, between the ISF and Peshmerga continues. Yet, once again, I urge Baghdad and Erbil to leverage this reservoir of good will and urgently engage in high-level political dialogue and negotiations of key outstanding issues in the political, economic, and administrative fields, including oil exports, revenue sharing, support for the Peshmerga, disputed boundaries, and the voluntary and unhindered return of internally displaced persons to their homes. Lack of dialogue and progress on issues like functional federation based on genuine partnership, or the implementation of Article 140 of the Constitution, concerning disputed boundaries and territories will increasingly create problems and tensions.
Earlier this year senior officials in the Kurdistan region have declared its Government’s intention to hold a referendum on the future status of the region, in 2017. They stressed that the objective of the plebiscite would be to show the world the will of the people, rather than to immediately declare independence. Also authorities of Kirkuk indicated their willingness to take part in the planned referendum on the future status of the KR-I.
Two of the main KR-I political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Movement for Change (Gorran), have insisted that any formal decision to hold a referendum would require an act by the Kurdistan Regional Parliament that would first need to reconvene. Their negotiations with the Kurdistan Democratic Party over the reactivation of the Parliament that has not met since its Speaker was prevented from exercising his duties in Autumn 2015 are yet to yield fruit. In the meantime, a joint committee has been formed to build consensus within the region, ahead of discussions on the referendum with the federal Government.
The Turkish Armed Forces relentlessly continued to conduct air strikes on suspected positions of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Iraq. For the first time, and following multiple public warnings, on 25 April they conducted an air attack on PKK targets in the Sinjar area, Ninewa governorate. Five Peshmerga were mistakenly killed and six more injured . While the Turkish government apologized to the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Turkish leaders and Armed Forces unequivocally declared that the strikes would continue in order to deny the PKK another sanctuary and to push back threats to Turkey’s national security. Prime Minister al-Abadi and the Government of Iraq condemned the attack describing it as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and a breach of international law, and called upon Turkey and all the other neighbouring countries to respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi territory, warning that these types of activities undermine regional efforts against Daesh.
Although the Iraqi territory that ISIL controls is shrinking daily, Da’esh continues to commit terrible crimes against civilians. It uses civilians as human shields, in particular to deter attacks, including airstrikes by the government and the international coalition; it employs snipers to kill men, women and children attempting to reach the safety of government controlled areas, and it targets retaken civilian areas with mortars.
In what appeared to be a new tactic, ISIL members disguised as Iraqi Security Forces killed and abducted civilians who greeted them as liberators. In the morning of 24 April, ISIL members in a black military vehicle (similar to those used by the security forces), and wearing combat uniforms of Iraqi Federal Police, arrived in the ISIL-controlled al-Maydan neighbourhood in western Mosul. Local civilians came out to welcome them thinking that they were Iraqi forces coming to liberate them. ISIL responded by opening fire on them, killing 17, including six women and three children. ISIL then abducted nine civilian men, whose whereabouts are unknown.
Worryingly, there have also been a number of incidents of ISIL allegedly using weaponized chemicals (mostly chlorine, but on occasion sulfurous mustard) against civilians and Iraqi Security Forces. Official confirmation of these incidents has not been received so far. However, many of the witness statements point to the presence of chemicals in a number of these incidents.
Despite efforts by the Iraqi Security Forces and international coalition partners to limit the impact of their operations on civilians UNAMI continues to receive reports of airstrikes on ISIL-controlled areas that result in civilian casualties. UNAMI finds it almost impossible to verify such reports and detail the circumstances in which such airstrikes occurred. UNAMI and the UNCT also continue to receive reports of possible violations committed by armed groups operating in support of the Iraqi Government.
Ensuring justice and accountability remains crucial if community and national reconciliation is to succeed in the post-ISIL period. While the international community needs to vigorously pursue initiatives that aim to promote accountability for international crimes committed in Iraq by Daesh, and hopes to get support from the Iraqi Government, the UN in Iraq has been undertaking work with a range of partners to promote mechanisms at the national level to promote accountability for individuals who have committed crimes and human rights abuses against Iraq’s people. These efforts place simultaneous emphasis on appropriate care and protection of the victims and survivors of those crimes and violations supporting their referral to appropriate medical, psycho-social and other forms of assistance.
Similarly, it is fundamental to ensure that crimes and human rights violations and abuses are properly documented to support possible prosecutions where perpetrators can be identified and apprehended. Preserving the evidence of crimes committed by Daesh is important to ensure that justice will be done. UNAMI remains concerned by the low capacity of the federal Government and the Government of the Kurdistan region to protect and systematically investigate crime sites, including mass graves. Thirty such sites have been officially reported in areas retaken by ISIL so far. Systematic preservation and excavation of these sites remains critical, given that they may contain evidence of the perpetrators of these crimes, but also important evidence of the identities of the victims.
Respect for the rule of law in Iraq remains weak. Kidnaping and hostage taking, irrespective of criminal or other motives is increasingly a problem. While some cases, like the December 2016 abduction of a journalist Afrah Shawqi, the recent kidnapping of 7 civil society activists in Baghdad, or the situation around the 26 Qataris kidnapped in Iraq in December 2015 and held in captivity for more than a year and a half were resolved, many other cases are without response. Such acts undermine trust in the Government, law and order in the country. On 11 May, the National Intelligence Cell headed by Prime Minister al-Abadi discussed the issues of kidnappings and organized crime, acknowledged the interconnection between terrorism and organized crime and took measures to prevent and resolve such acts and to put the perpetrators to justice. A prominent Shi’a Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr warned that the number of kindnappings will increase in the future after, as he said, “shameless militia” take control of liberated areas. He called for kindnappers and criminals to be expelled from all PMF factions and for security forces to counter violence against civilians with full powers and force. Folowing the recent cases, the Ministry of Interior established a special unit that will aim to prevent, counter, and investigate kidnappings.
UNAMI encurages the Government of Iraq to continue upholding the principle of justice and accountability as well as to locate the missing persons. The UN is proposing a set of amendments to the Iraqi criminal code that will improve due process and fair trial standards and better equip police, investigators and judges to conduct forensic investigations and trials that comply with constitutional and international standards. The UN also continues to conduct training for law enforcement officials on human rights standards in the conduct of their duties. We have recently completed drafting booklets and information cards for police on standards of conduct and are now discussing their adoption by the Ministry of Interior and their dissemination to all serving police personnel. UNAMI is also developing a revised curriculum on human rights and civilian policing standards for the Iraqi and Kurdistan region’s police training academies. It is hoped that the curriculum, if adopted, will be institutionalized and become a regular feature of the training of police officers across the country.
Central to the protection of human rights and the rule of law is public education and involvement in claiming those rights. The UN in Iraq is working on devising a curriculum for primary and secondary schools, which aims to teach children about their rights, duties and obligations. Among others, the curriculum focuses on freedom of expression, civic engagement and respecting the rights of others, particularly of women and minority ethnic and religious communities. The curriculum has been developed in consultation with education specialists and is under consideration by the Ministry of Education in the Kurdistan region. It will be presented shortly to the federal Ministry of Education for consideration.
The selection process of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, the cornerstone of an Iraqi-led system for the protection and respect of the human rights of all of Iraq’s people, is ongoing. On 29 April, the Council of Representatives voted in favour of amending the legal framework for establishing a Committee of Experts to nominate the Board of Commissioners. The approved amendment removed the UN from its position as a full member of the Committee and restricted our activities to general monitoring, consultation and technical support. This amendment followed assertions by some MPs who had argued that the UN’s previous role was in violation of applicable law, that UNAMI refuted.
Prior to the amendment and given the politicization of the process in violation of international and constitutional standards guaranteeing the independence of the individuals appointed to serve as Commissioners, the United Nations had no option but to suspend participation in the Committee until the matter was resolved. UNAMI will await the outcome of the appointment process and reconsider its future engagement with the Commission at that time.
A complex electoral calendar looms in Iraq including the KR-I for 2017 and 2018, as a result of multiple electoral events, coupled with security and humanitarian challenges. This requires significant UN and international support to both the IHEC and the Kurdistan Region’s Independent High Electoral Commission. Of primary importance is holding the election of the new Iraqi Parliament within its constitutional term in April 2018, as a precursor for the creation of the new Government that will steer the country in the post- Da’esh period. Increasingly, leading political leaders find it necessary to stress the need to hold the next parliamentary election as scheduled and required by the Constitution, as President Massoum did on 4 May with his three Vice-Presidents Nuri al-Maliki, Iyad Alawi and Ossama Nujeifi.
Less than four months remain until 16 September 2017, the date scheduled by the Government of Iraq for the Governorate Council elections. The Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), with UNAMI technical advisory support, is moving forward with a number of activities, including the finalization of the voter registry and other operational activities. However, essential legislative measures necessary for electoral preparations remain pending at the Council of Representatives, including proposed amendments to the Law on Governorates, Districts and Sub-Districts elections.
Similarly, strong political appeals for changes in the Commission further contribute to the uncertainty regarding the electoral process and calendar. The Council of Representatives has initiated a questioning process of the Independent High Electoral Commission, whose mandate will expire in less than four months. Meanwhile the Council of Representatives has appointed a 27-member committee, tasked with the selection of a new Board of Commissioners. The Committee has shortlisted 118 applicants (from a total of 948 applications), for interviews scheduled to take place immediately after Ramadan. UNAMI is providing technical advice and support to the committee.
A number of Sunni politicians have also raised concerns regarding the slow voter registration process for IDPs, which to date has covered only about 263,000 out of an estimated 1.6 million displaced voters. They are now advocating postponing elections until IDPs return.
The delays and uncertainties in setting forth the electoral legal and institutional framework and preparations are concerning and put doubts on whether it would be possible to hold the provincial council election in September 2017 in a way that will ensure credibility, inclusiveness and wide participation.
I reiterate the importance of having the appropriate and comprehensive legal and institutional framework in place in good time and of taking appropriate steps to ensure the inclusive participation of all Iraqis, including IDPs, ahead of the elections. I therefore call on the Council of Representatives to maximally expedite the reform of the electoral legal and institutional framework. I call on the Government of Iraq, IHEC and other responsible Ministries and Departments to take all necessary actions to ensure that IDPs are enfranchised and exercise their civic and political responsibilities. This latter can best be achieved by the IDPs’ return to their homes and by creating conditions free of pressure and intimidation. I also urge that the registration of political parties for the September 2017 elections be expedited to give an opportunity to all parties – large and small – to participate in the electoral process freely and effectively.
I welcome progress on cooperation between the Independent High Electoral Commission and the Kurdistan Region’s Independent High Electoral Commission (K-IHEC). With UNAMI support, committees from both electoral institutions are working on mechanisms to share the voter registry database and to provide additional assistance to K-IHEC, as it builds its organizational and operational capacity to implement regional electoral events. I applaud this positive development, in which the Mission has invested considerable resources. It enables K-IHEC to make progress in fulfilling its legal obligations and illustrates the clear and mutual benefits of Baghdad-Erbil cooperation.
The upcoming election season and the potential referendum in the Kurdistan region of Iraq will inevitably give rise to political jostling for votes. Nevertheless, Iraqi leaders must not ignore the fact that citizens across the country place a clear premium on fair and equal treatment, transparent governance, and better service delivery. Along with insecurity, the scourge of corruption tops the list of concerns of the average Iraqi. Once again, I urge the Government of Iraq to continue vigorously on the path of reforms and to implement measures to diversify the economy, combat corruption and patronage, improve accountability, and develop more responsive governance.
Additionally, I call on the Government and the Council of Representatives to accelerate consideration of and action on key pending legislation, including laws that affect the distribution of oil revenues, amendments to the Justice and Accountability Law, the Anti-Terrorism Law, the Federation Council Law, the Provincial Powers Act, the Components’ Rights Law, and the Domestic Violence Law.
The UN in Iraq is partnering with a range of civil society organisations on the reform of the legislative frameworks that protect women and children from all forms of violence, particularly domestic violence. The UN is consulting with civil society organisations throughout the country on proposed amendments to the Family Protection Bill – which is currently before the Council of Representatives – that will enhance the protection of women and children who are at risk or subjected to domestic violence and will ensure accountability of the perpetrators of such violence. These consultations will culminate at the end of May with a UNAMI-facilitated conference, which will include Members of Parliament as well as representatives of civil society organisations and women’s groups, aiming to agree on amendments to the bill.
Advancing the Women, Peace and Security Agenda remains one of our highest priorities. While funding limitations still impede progress on implementing activities on the National Action Plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the Mission continues to work with both the federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to overcome the challenges. We will also persist with our advocacy to promote implementation of the national strategy for the advancement of women and to support existing frameworks and relevant institutions to achieve concrete results. We keep impressing on the political stakeholders the need to incorporate women’s voices in political and the national and community reconciliation processes, including by making them more accessible and by developing a more contextualized approach for women participation and representation.
After the visit of the SRSG for Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, to Iraq between 28 February and 3 March, the UN has taken steps to follow-up on key priorities identified during the trip. These include the establishment of the Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Arrangements (MARA) on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) and support to the Government of Iraq to implement key areas outlined in the Joint Communiqué on Prevention and Response to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence. During our discussions with high-level focal points in Baghdad and Erbil we have emphasized the importance of ensuring that the Joint Communiqué and the National Action Plan on 1325 work in harmony.
Addressing conflict-related sexual violence will remain a priority in the post-ISIL phase, with a focus on the needs of survivors and addressing stigma. The UN continues to engage religious leaders to identify steps to enhance protection of returning survivors of sexual violence and children borne out of rape. UNAMI welcomes the fatwa issued by the Diwan of Sunni Endowments, Iraqi Supreme Council of Fatwas on 10th February urging acceptance and care of survivors of rape and shifting the stigma associated with sexual violence crimes to perpetrators. UNAMI urges the Government to take steps toward justice and accountability for the sexual violence crimes committed.
Displacement from western Mosul city continues, with the number of people being displaced each day rising as fighting intensifies. To date, over half a million people from Mosul and its surrounding areas are currently displaced, approximately 86 per cent of whom are from neighbourhoods in the west of the city. Since military operations to retake the city began in mid-October 700,000 people have fled their homes, approximately one-fifth of whom have been able to return home, largely to east Mosul and surrounding areas. An estimated 200,000 people are still in ISIL-controlled parts of the city, where they are reportedly suffering extreme shortages of food and water, and are at risk from bombardment and being caught in the crossfire. Humanitarian partners are also deeply concerned about possible outbreaks of waterborne diseases as temperatures rise.
Since mid-October, humanitarian partners have reached more than 2.7 million vulnerable people with emergency response packages, including people who are displaced and people who were able to remain in their homes. Water treatment plants in accessible areas of the city are being rehabilitated, although 4.5 million litres of water continue to be trucked into eastern Mosul city and accessible neighborhoods of the west every day to supplement supplies until the water network is repaired. Trauma casualty rates continue to be high, with over 8,000 people having been referred from Mosul to hospitals for trauma care since October.
People in ISIL-held areas in Tel Afar, Hawija and western Anbar are suffering similar shortages of food, water and basic services, according to reports from displaced people. As many as 1.2 million more people may flee their homes in 2017, depending on the intensity of military campaigns to retake these areas. Some 1.8 million people have returned to their homes countrywide, almost half of whom are in Anbar Governorate. Many returnee families remain vulnerable to shocks, and need ongoing humanitarian assistance.
At the same time that hundreds of thousands of people are being displaced, hundreds of thousands are returning to newly liberated areas to begin rebuilding their lives. 1.8 million people have returned to their homes countrywide, almost half of whom are in Anbar Governorate. The United Nations Development Programme’s Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS) continues to expand. More than 900 projects are under way or had been completed in 22 liberated towns and districts in Anbar, Ninawa, Salah al-Din, Kirkuk and Diyala governorates. Progress in Mosul is particularly noteworthy. More than 230 projects are underway in eastern Mosul, including the rehabilitation of water treatment plants, electrical substations, schools and health-care facilities. 130 projects are underway in the Ninewa Plains including in hard-hit minority communities. Joint FFS-Government missions have begun in western Mosul to develop projects to rapidly repair sewerage, health and electricity systems. Already the road to Al-Athbah Hospital, the primary site for trauma operations for wounded civilians from western Mosul has been repaired. Hundreds of transformers have been distributed helping to restart the electricity grid and at present, returns to the Ninawa Plains are limited. We are working closely with the Government of Iraq matter in support of a conference to agree on solutions to facilitate safe returns, particularly in minority communities.
On 3 May, the Ministry of Planning held its first conference on the National Development Plan 2018 – 2022 in Erbil. The conference was attended by Government, civil society, United Nations, and international development partners. Participants discussed the draft development framework and its challenges, and allocated responsibilities to involved actors. In addition, the conference afforded an opportunity to discuss migration reforms, displacement, and reconstruction of retaken areas, gender, and strategies for poverty alleviation. The plan, which envisions administrative decentralization and partnerships with the private sector, articulates the Government’s dedication to strengthening good governance and involving all stakeholders in a participatory, inclusive, and transparent process that reflects the aspirations of all populations. The National Development Plan provides the foundation for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with specific focus on rebuilding liberated areas and on poverty reduction, in order to reach sustainable development.
Allow me to now turn to the fourteenth report of the Secretary-General on the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the National Archives.
It has been a year since the file of Kuwaiti Missing persons has been transferred from the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights to the Ministry of Defence. During this period, the Iraqi Ministry of Defence has increased efforts to reach more witnesses in order to obtain more detailed information regarding the identification of potential burial sites and to carry out more field visits and excavations. The increased number of witnesses coming forward to give information have injected much-needed energy and momentum into the file.
However, despite its efforts and determination, the Government of Iraq has yet to fully realize its obligation in addressing the human cost of the 1990 conflict and provide answers to the families of the missing. On 3 May, I travelled to Kuwait where I met His Excellency Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Kuwait, as well as members of the Kuwaiti National Committee of Missing Persons. While acknowledging reinvigoration of the file, my interlocutors reiterated their regret at the lack of tangible results. They voiced pragmatic ideas on the way forward, suggesting closer bilateral cooperation with the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, and underlined the readiness of the State of Kuwait to support Iraq’s efforts both financially and technically.
Echoing the Presidential Statement issued by this Council in July 2016, I would once again urge the Government of Iraq to continue with the same resolve and determination to honour and fulfil its international obligations under this file; to rely on the wisdom and advice of the tripartite members; to consider further extending cooperation with the Kuwaiti counterparts, particularly regarding the exchange of information on potential witnesses; and to continue applying multidimensional and innovative approaches in order to bring this file to a close.
In two days, Iraq will be hosting for the first time after 14 years the 44th session of the Tripartite Commission marking the slow but steady return of the country to normality. I would like to acknowledge the Government of Iraq’s continuous efforts on this file, in the midst of other current challenges facing the country, and remind that bringing this file to an end will bring the country closer to the normalisation of relations with Kuwait and the rest of the world. I also wish to commend Kuwait for the support and understanding it has consistently shown towards the challenges faced by the Government of Iraq over the years. While Iraq strives to reach results, all of us will continue assisting the country in its effort to achieve peace and stability.
Thank you for your attention.