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.

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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)

Empowering women in Iraq through Gender Equality Tool Seal

Gender mainstreaming is the cornerstone of development and peacebuilding, it occupied a very important part in SDGs and Agenda 2030. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had developed an assessment tool to track gender equality in the public institutions, in order to create a baseline and to prioritize the work for the coming years.

This tool is divided into six parts related to tracking progress on gender equality goals: Framework, capacities, enabling environment, partnership and engagement, laws, policies and programmes and results and impact.

A workshop was held on Public Sector Gender Equality Seal in Dec. 2018, in addition to two consultations meetings with the Women Empowerment Directorate in the General Secretariat for the Council of Ministries and the Ministry of Planning (MoP), to choose the public institutions which will be assessed.

As a result, the Women Empowerment Directorate was chosen as an implementer for the Gender Equality Tool, due to its mandate in empowering women in Iraq, and for being the umbrella for gender units and departments all over the ministries, which can be used to implement the tool.

Deputy Minister of Planning, Dr. Maher Johan, stressed the importance to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 agenda, particularly SDG 5 which states on achieving gender equality and empowering women, and SDG 16 which states on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, and also agreed on selecting MoP as a sample.

UNDP in cooperation with Women Empowerment Directorate and MoP conducted a workshop on 7th Jan. 2019 in Baghdad, attended by 39 representatives from the gender units of line ministries. The workshop presented the Tool of Gender Equality Seal in order to enhance the capacities of Women Empowerment Department to implement the tool in Public Sector, and discussed the important of Gender Statistics as well as it presented the gender mainstreaming into the national development plans and strategies.

It was mentioned by the Deputy Country Director Mr. Vakhtang Svanidze that:

“UNDP chose Iraq to be part in this pilot as we believe that the Government of Iraq had taken critical steps towards gender equality and women empowerment in different levels, in additional to its efforts to implement the sustainable development goals and leaving no one behind. This pilot is an opportunity for Iraq to share its work globally, and advance gender participation within public-sector institutions”.

This workshop was part of the efforts to integrate SDG 5 into policies and plans, UNDP cooperation with gender units on the Gender Equality Seal Tool which has been developed by UNDP to measure Gender Mainstreaming within institutions will create solid working places.

Gender mainstreaming is considered as one of the main pillars of the mandate of gender departments, in coordination and follow up with gender units and departments within Iraqi’s ministries and provinces. this tool will be the bedrock for true and genuine work to empower women in Iraq.

(Source: UNDP)

From Al Jazeera. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Women in Iraq push to Criminalise Domestic Violence

Domestic violence has been on the rise in Iraq, with women’s groups blaming instability and the break down of law and order.

However, there has been a growing awareness of the issue at the highest levels of government and the women’s rights groups are hopeful that the legislature will finally pass a law criminalising what they see as a “national crisis”.

The penal code currently has a provision allowing husbands to discipline their wives and does not criminalise domestic violence.

Al Jazeera‘s Natasha Ghoneim reports from Baghdad:

By John Lee.

Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government authorities have charged hundreds of children with terrorism for alleged Islamic State (also known as ISIS) affiliation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said, adding that the prosecutions are often based on dubious accusations and forced confessions obtained through torture.

The 53-page report, “‘Everyone Must Confess’: Abuses against Children Suspected of ISIS Affiliation in Iraq,” shows that Iraqi and KRG authorities often arrest and prosecute children with any perceived connection to ISIS, use torture to coerce confessions, and sentence them to prison in hasty and unfair trials.

International law recognizes children recruited by armed groups primarily as victims who should be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.

More here.

(Source: HRW)

A new cybercrimes law that would impose heavy prison sentences and hefty fines against peaceful critics who express themselves online would be a devastating setback for freedom of expression in Iraq, Amnesty International has said.

The organization has highlighted its serious concern over the draft “Law on Information Technology Crimes” in an open letter signed by nine other NGOs. The letter was submitted to the Iraqi authorities this morning and warns that the proposed law would “establish a climate of self-censorship in the country.

If passed, this draconian cybercrime law will be a devastating blow for freedom of expression in Iraq. The vague and overly broad wording of the law means it could easily become a tool for repression in a country where the space for critical voices is already severely restricted,” said Razaw Salihy, Iraq researcher at Amnesty International.

More here.

(Source: Amnesty International)

Iraqi authorities in Nineveh are harassing, threatening, and arresting aid workers, even bringing bogus terrorism charges against them, undermining their work, Human Rights Watch said today.

In some cases, local authorities are also compelling organizations to stop providing services to families the authorities accuse of ISIS ties.

As if the their working conditions aren’t difficult enough, aid workers in Mosul and other parts of Nineveh have faced baseless charges of ISIS affiliation, and have even been arrested,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Charges of ISIS affiliation appear to be thinly veiled attempts to get some organizations to divert aid to corrupt local authorities or to stop giving assistance to some needy families accused of having relatives in ISIS.

More here.

(Source: HRW)

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq is torturing children to confess to involvement with the Islamic State (ISIS), according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Children told Human Rights Watch that in 2017 and 2018, security officers, known as Asayish, used beatings, stress positions, and electric shock on boys in their custody. Most said they had no access to a lawyer and they were not allowed to read the confessions Asayish wrote and forced them to sign.

More here.

(Source: HRW)