Several members of Iraq’s parliament and the province’s deputy governor visited prisons near Mosul, Iraq, calling what they found a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

This happened two days after Human Rights Watch (HRW) released research detailing the horrible conditions of the prisons, which hold terrorism suspects.

Immediately after our report release, local authorities claimed Human Rights Watch’s research was “fallacious.” But the government’s tone has since changed. One parliamentarian admitted that “what Human Rights Watch reported was small relative to the actual catastrophe inside the prisons of Nineveh.

Nongovernmental organizations working on these issues have said that Human Rights Watch’s research has made their work easier. Human Rights Watch has also been told that the report release has positively supported their work and has sparked serious conversations in Baghdad about addressing prison conditions.

More here

(Source: HRW)

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated two militia figures, Rayan al-Kildani and Waad Qado, and two former Iraqi governors, Nawfal Hammadi al-Sultan and Ahmed al-Jubouri, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption.

“The United States is taking action against four individuals in Iraq implicated in serious human rights abuse or corruption,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. “We will continue to hold accountable persons associated with serious human rights abuse, including persecution of religious minorities, and corrupt officials who exploit their positions of public trust to line their pockets and hoard power at the expense of their citizens.”

Many of the corruption- and abuse-related actions committed by these sanctioned individuals occurred in areas where persecuted religious communities are struggling to recover from the horrors inflicted on them by ISIS.  Therefore, today’s sanctions demonstrate solidarity with all Iraqis who oppose corruption and human rights abuse undertaken by public officials, and underscore the Administration’s commitment to support the recovery of persecuted religious communities in Iraq.

As a result of today’s actions, all property and interests in property of these individuals, and any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by these individuals, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.  OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit any dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked persons.

RAYAN AL-KILDANI

Rayan al-Kildani (al-Kildani) was designated for being a foreign person who is responsible for or complicit in, or who has directly or indirectly engaged in, serious human rights abuse.

Al-Kildani is the leader of the 50th Brigade militia.  In May 2018, a video circulated among Iraqi human rights civil society organizations in which al-Kildani cut off the ear of a handcuffed detainee.

The 50th Brigade is reportedly the primary impediment to the return of internally displaced persons to the Ninewa Plain.  The 50th Brigade has systematically looted homes in Batnaya, which is struggling to recover from ISIS’s brutal rule.  The 50th Brigade has reportedly illegally seized and sold agricultural land, and the local population has accused the group of intimidation, extortion, and harassment of women.

WAAD QADO

Waad Qado (Qado) was designated for being a foreign person who is or has been a leader or official of an entity, including any government entity, that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, serious human rights abuse relating to the leader’s or official’s tenure.

Qado is the leader of the 30th Brigade militia.  The 30th Brigade has extracted money from the population around Bartalla, in the Ninewa Plain, through extortion, illegal arrests, and kidnappings.  The 30th Brigade has frequently detained people without warrants, or with fraudulent warrants, and has charged arbitrary customs fees at its checkpoints.  Members of the local population allege that the 30th Brigade has been responsible for egregious offenses including physical intimidation, extortion, robbery, kidnapping, and rape.

NAWFAL HAMMADI AL-SULTAN

Nawfal Hammadi al-Sultan (al-Sultan) is designated for being a foreign person who is a current or former government official, or a person acting for or on behalf of such an official, who is responsible for or complicit in, or who has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

Al-Sultan is a former governor of Ninewa Province, Iraq.  Following a ferry accident in Ninewa’s capital, Mosul, that killed nearly 100 people, Iraq’s parliament removed al-Sultan from office.  The ferry, loaded to five times its capacity, had been carrying families to an island on the Tigris River when it sank.  Iraqi authorities have issued an arrest warrant for the former governor, who fled shortly after the accident.

In a letter to Members of Parliament after the ferry accident, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi accused al-Sultan of negligence and dereliction of duty, and said there was evidence the former governor was misusing funds and abusing his power.  On March 27, 2019, the Ninewa investigations court said the former governor and several other officials were suspected of misusing their powers and wasting public money.

Al-Sultan has faced allegations of widespread corruption since 1994.  He was removed from his first post as mayor because of corruption and a conviction on smuggling charges.  In 2017, the United Nations Development Program suspended reconstruction projects after multiple allegations of al-Sultan siphoning off United Nations funds.

AHMED AL-JUBOURI

Ahmed al-Jubouri (al-Jubouri) is designated for being a foreign person who is a current or former government official, or a person acting for or on behalf of such an official, who is responsible for or complicit in, or who has directly or indirectly engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.

Al-Jubouri, also known as Abu Mazin, is a former governor of Salah al-Din, Iraq, and current Member of Parliament who has engaged in corruption.  Al-Jubouri was removed as governor and sentenced to prison in July 2017 upon conviction for misusing authority and federal funds and appropriating land for personal use.  Al-Jubouri has since been released.  Al-Jubouri has been known to protect his personal interests by accommodating Iran-backed proxies that operate outside of state control.

GLOBAL MAGNITSKY

Building upon the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, on December 20, 2017, the President signed E.O. 13818, “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption,” in which the President found that the prevalence of human rights abuse and corruption that have their source, in whole or in substantial part, outside the United States, has reached such scope and gravity that they threaten the stability of international political and economic systems.  Human rights abuse and corruption undermine the values that form an essential foundation of stable, secure, and functioning societies; have devastating impacts on individuals; weaken democratic institutions; degrade the rule of law; perpetuate violent conflicts; facilitate the activities of dangerous persons; and undermine economic markets.  The United States seeks to impose tangible and significant consequences on those who commit serious human rights abuse or engage in corruption, as well as to protect the financial system of the United States from abuse by these same persons.

To date, OFAC has sanctioned 113 individuals and entities pursuant to E.O. 13818.  These designations are in addition to the numerous human rights- or corruption-related designations Treasury has issued under various other sanctions authorities.  In total, since January 2017, Treasury has taken action against more than 680 individuals and entities engaged in activities related to, or directly involving, human rights abuse and/or corruption.  The Treasury Department has also published advisories to U.S. financial institutions on human rights abuses enabled by corrupt senior foreign political figures and their financial facilitators that can be found here, as well as advisories related to some of the programs listed above, which can be found here.

View identifying information on the individuals designated today.

(Source: OFAC)

Iraq: Thousands Detained, Including Children, in Degrading Conditions

Nineveh’s extremely overcrowded detention facilities are holding thousands of prisoners in Iraq, most on terrorism charges, for extended periods in conditions so degrading that they amount to ill-treatment.

The authorities should ensure that prisoners are not held in inhuman conditions and that there is a clear legal basis for detentions, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

The Iraqi government urgently needs to rebuild and rehabilitate its detention facilities,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Iraq has a duty to ensure that detainees are housed decently, in line with international standards.

More here.

(Source: HRW)

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor denounced the kidnapping of a civil activist and prominent academic in Basra province in Iraq, as well as the arrest campaigns carried out by the Iraqi security services against activists leading peaceful protests against corruption in the country.

According to local sources, Kazem Al-Sahlani was kidnapped because of his prominent role in anti-corruption demonstrations. for several hours before being released. He was held in captivity for several hours before being released in the northern desert of Basra province, from where he was able to reach a local police checkpoint.

More here.

(Source: Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor)

By Amnesty International.

Nobody wants us: The plight of displaced female-headed families in Iraq

Amnesty International and other organizations have continuously documented the collective punishment of displaced families, especially female-headed families.

Many are perceived as supporters of the Islamic State armed group (IS) due to factors outside their control – such as being related, however distantly, to men who were somehow involved with IS – and are ostracized by the rest of society.

Such families have reported being forcibly displaced, evicted, arrested, had their homes demolished or looted or faced threats, sexual abuse and harassment, and discrimination after returning to their places of origin.

More here.

(Source: Amnesty International)

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued the following assessment of democracy and human rights in Iraq, as part of its annual Human rights report:

The principal human rights concerns in Iraq in 2018 were the lasting effects of Daesh atrocities, the use of the death penalty, gender disparity in society and politics, violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, and the excessive use of force against demonstrators. Following significant military progress against Daesh at the end of 2017, 4.1 million internally displaced persons had safely returned home by December 2018 to begin rebuilding their lives, while 1.8 million remained displaced.

National elections in May were held according to democratic standards and were largely peaceful. However, the continuing security threat of Daesh, preparation for elections, and a protracted period of government formation distracted the Government of Iraq from addressing major human rights issues.

There was a pressing need to address the societal effects of Daesh atrocities, in particular the stigma associated with survivors of sexual violence, children born of rape, and widows of Daesh members. The UK funded projects to reduce stigma, promote community action to prevent sexual violence, and facilitate access to services for survivors. The UN Investigative Team, established following UN Security Council Resolution 2379, was deployed to Iraq to embark on its mandate to hold Daesh accountable by collecting, preserving, and storing evidence of Daesh crimes.

This included supporting and complementing investigations carried out by the Iraqi authorities, and exhuming mass graves. The first mass grave exhumation took place on 15 March 2019 in the village of Kojo, the hometown of Nadia Murad. The UK-led Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative is working with partners to develop the Murad Code. Drawing on the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict and in consultation with Nadia Murad’s Initiative, the Murad Code will capture international standards and best practice that governments, international agencies and NGOs should adhere to when gathering evidence for judicial purposes.

The use of the death penalty remained a significant concern over the summer, when the then Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi expedited cases of convicted Daesh members, with strong public support. The Iraqi Ministry of Justice announced that 32 executions had taken place between January and August. The UK publicly condemned the use of the death penalty on a number of occasions, and continued to press the Government of Iraq to improve transparency on death penalty cases, and adhere to international standards on due process and fair trials.

In the run up to the national elections in May, the intimidation of female candidates forced some to withdraw their candidacy. The UK and EU jointly and publicly criticised this behaviour. Despite Iraq’s Constitution requiring 25% of MPs to be female, women remained sidelined from political decision making. October saw the murder of 2 high-profile women, Souad al Ali and Tara Fares, demonstrating the continuing threat of violence against women. The UK regularly highlighted the importance of gender equality in society and in politics, including by supporting the formation of a women’s caucus to strengthen the voice of Iraq’s 83 female MPs. We worked closely with the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq to support the development of Iraq’s second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

Lack of security, access to services and jobs, and marginalisation in general were the principal concerns for Iraq’s religious and ethnic minority communities, which in turn accelerated the emigration of members of minority groups. We consistently raised with the Government of Iraq, including the new Foreign Minister, the need to protect vulnerable people, including members of minority groups. By December, we had contributed over £14.4 million to the UN’s Funding Facility for Stabilisation to help the Government of Iraq rebuild communities in liberated areas, including the Ninewa Plains, home to many minority groups.

While Iraq’s media environment remained relatively free in comparison to the wider Middle East region, serious issues persisted. In April, Human Rights Watch reported arbitrary detentions and violence by Kurdish security forces against protesters and journalists. In July, the Government of Iraq shut down the internet for several days to disrupt the organisation and reporting of protests in southern Iraq. In September, Amnesty International reported that the Iraqi security forces had responded with excessive force and violence to these protests. The UK repeatedly underlined the importance of an effective and impartial media. To support fundamental media freedoms, we funded training for 280 journalists, media specialists, social media activists, and university professors.

In 2019, the UK will both press and support the Government of Iraq to make substantive reforms to be more inclusive, protect vulnerable people, deliver services to all Iraqis, and ensure that the conditions which enabled Daesh do not return. The formation of a new Government of Iraq is an important opportunity to continue Iraq’s positive human rights trajectory, but we need to maintain the pressure. We will continue to press for improvements on human rights, with a particular focus on the women, peace and security agenda, and on freedom of religion or belief. Ensuring the rule of law and fundamental human rights are crucial to Iraq’s long-term stabilisation and security.

(Source: UK FCO)

By Omar al-Jaffal for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Conservatives in Iraq’s Najaf want to legislate religiosity

Hundreds of residents in Iraq’s Najaf province rallied and called for a new law that would “strengthen the sanctity” of the city of Najaf, where the Imam Ali Shrine, Shiite seminaries and authorities — most notably top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani — are based.

The heavy presence of clerics’ black and white turbans made it obvious the city’s conservatives were spearheading the April 7 demonstration. The protesters’ anger was evident by their expressions and the slogans they chanted.

Click here to read the full story.

Iraqi officers have committed torture at a detention facility in Mosul at least through early 2019, months after Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on the abuses and shared information about those responsible, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

The Iraqi government did not respond to two Human Rights Watch letters requesting an update on steps taken to investigate the allegations.

If the Iraqi government ignores credible reports of torture, it’s no wonder that the abuses persist,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “What will it take for the authorities to take torture allegations seriously.

More here.

(Source: HRW)

By John Lee.

Iraq is reportedly considering banning several popular video games over fears that they encourage violence and crime.

MP Sami’a Ghulab, who chairs the Parliamentary Committee on Culture, Information, Tourism, and Archaeology, is quoted as saying that games such as Fortnite, Apex Legends and PlayerUnkown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) are “affecting the social, psychological and educational level of everyone [who plays them]“.

According to The Independent, the MP provided no evidence for this alleged damage, nor any details about how the ban would be enforced. The newspaper also cites a recent study from the University of Oxford which suggests that links between violent video games and real-world violence have been overblown.

The National reports that Iraq’s 2005 constitution enshrines press freedom unless they “violate public order or morality.”

(Source: The Independent, The National)

By Robert Cole, for the AMAR International Charitable Foundation.

The AMAR-led initiative to bring to an end the horrors of religious persecution, which began with a series of high-level conferences in Windsor Castle, has now led to Baghdad.

The November event, held over two days in the Iraqi capital, attracted more than 200 delegates, including senior religious leaders and politicians. There were representatives from the Shia and Sunni community, Yazidis, Christians, Mandaeans, Chaldeans and Mormons.

AMAR’s chairman, Baroness Nicholson (centre right), and delegates.

It was the fourth in the Windsor series. AMAR believes that the recognition of the Yazidi faith by other world religions would prevent further genocidal attacks on this peaceful people once and for all.

In the summer of 2014, thousands of Yazidis were killed, and thousands more women and girls kidnapped, held as sex slaves by ISIS gangs. A further 400,000 were forced from their homes and condemned to a miserable life in the sprawling IDP camps of northern Iraq.

“AMAR is determined to end once and for all the dreadful scourge of religious persecution. We began by inviting many highly influential religious leaders and academics to Windsor Castle to discuss how best to achieve this, and over three separate meetings, we drew up a comprehensive and extensive plan,” explained Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, the AMAR Chairman and Founder.

She added: “The next step was to take this right to the heart of the Middle East, to a region that was the cradle of modern civilisation, one with a rich and diverse history, but a region where there has been so much religious and ethnic strife over the last few decades.”

The Baroness said it was vital that the Windsor plan got massive worldwide support. Gaining the backing of faith leaders in Iraq was the first step to getting this.

And support it they did. Speaker after speaker condemned the curse of religious discrimination. Television news crews spoke during breaks to leaders of every faith, and each time were told in no uncertain terms that murdering, raping, kidnapping and torturing in the name of god was an anathema and had no part in their religion.

A delegate listens to the speakers.

A leading Muslim academic and researcher, Dr Lahaye Abdul Hussein, said the conference was invaluable because its messages would help reduce tension between faith groups. She said Iraqis were beginning to understand the destructive nature of religious intolerance.

Dr Wathik Al Hashmi, President of an Iraqi strategic studies group, said that if religious leaders always spoke the language of tolerance and anti-extremism they would “completely destroy” terrorism.

Father Maysr Binyami, a member of the Chaldean Catholic Church, said the conference would help educate Iraqis on what needed to be done in order for the country to move forward.

“In order to fight extremism, it is critical that there should be tolerance towards different religions and societies,” he explained.

Reading the final communique to the packed hall, AMAR’s General Director in Iraq, Dr Ali Muthanna, said all were determined to discredit the Takfiri extremist ideology which sanctions violence against others in the name of religion, so that once and for all they could close the door on violence and extremism.

“Religious scholars of all faiths must take the lead in spreading a culture of tolerance and moderation, criticising extremist interpretations and misinterpretations of the religious texts used by the terrorist Takfiris and their followers.”

AMAR’s General Director in Iraq, Dr Ali Muthanna (centre), with delegates.

The delegates called on the new Iraqi leadership to “concentrates all efforts” on deepening the paths of co-existence and co-operation among all Iraqi citizens no matter what faith or ethnic origin.

This could be achieved by “building a society free from racism and sectarianism based on freedom of belief and opinion for all, renouncing all forms of violence and extremism and eliminating all forms of discrimination and hatred.”

The conference concluded that education was also invaluable in helping to spread the culture of tolerance and love and helping enshrine the values ​​of citizenship through the educational curricula.

Dr Ali continued: “We must empower women in our society, not only within their own families, but at work and in education. Women have a vital role to play in preventing violence and we must offer them legal and social protection to ensure they have a more active role in their communities.”

On the second day of the conference, delegates heard from three leading members of the Yazidi administrative council, and from a senior member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Elder Tony Perkins.

Elder Perkins pointed out that there were many similarities between the suffering experienced by members of the fledgling Mormon religion in the early 19th century and the Yazidis’ experiences today.

The Mormons were hounded out of many US States and had to flee further West each time, finally ending up in the desert of Utah where they eventually set up home. Along the way they faced extreme violence, threats and abuse. In the state of Missouri, they were even subjected to an “extermination order”.

Elder Perkins said they had overcome the relentless persecution of those early years and were now an extremely successful community with much influence not just in the United States but around the world.  This was an example that the Yazidis could take heart from and realise that there was a future beyond this recent dark period.

Members of the Yazidi panel took time to explain to the other religious leaders the suffering endured by their people at the hands of ISIS. Thousands murdered, kidnapped, tortured and enslaved.

More than 3,000 women and girls were still missing, the majority believed to be in Syria. Hundreds of thousands of others were still forced to live in IDP camps, uncertain of whether they can ever go home.

The Yazidis suggested that a way to keep their community safe was for the Iraqi government to create a new governorate exclusively for them in the Sinjar region. It would have its own police force, political leaders, courts and community centres.

In her closing remarks, Baroness Nicholson said so much physical violence comes from religious persecution and “violence leads to more violence. Violence does not make peace.”

She said she would be inviting those attending the conference to join the Windsor movement to pursue “the wonderful philosophy” contained in the first day’s final communique.

“I would suggest, for the Yazidis in particular, that we should be trying to assist their move from despair to success, from degradation to respect, from a hatred to a real human love for the other.”

The Baroness said it was all entirely possible. The Church of Jesus Christ the Latter Day Saints had shown that very clearly. “There is a map, a plan, that can be followed.”

(Source: AMAR)