“The way to express one’s voice, to make one’s choice, is at the polls. This essential democratic exercise requires every voter, candidate, journalist and activist to play their part, ”Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (A FRIEND), updated the Ambassadors on video conference call from Baghdad.
He said Iraqis have spoken “loud and clear” in calling for new elections, and that their failure would cause “significant, lasting and widespread anger and disappointment” that could further destabilize the country at a time when “strength and unity is desperately needed ”.
The UNAMI SRSG informs the UNSC:
I reiterate my call to all Iraqi stakeholders to uphold the integrity of the electoral process. Political pressure and interference, intimidation and illicit financial flows are all most damaging to the credibility of the elections. #Iraq pic.twitter.com/BZNRZGQUKS
– UNAMI (@UNIraq) May 11, 2021
Stressing that the elections scheduled for October will remain “Iraqi-owned and led by Iraq”, the UN envoy reiterated his call to uphold the integrity of the process, warning that “political pressure and interference, intimidation and financial flows illegal “would jeopardize their credibility.
Punish the guilty
Liability for serious crimes and human rights violations, such as targeted killings, kidnappings and intimidation, remains “very, very limited”, the A FRIEND the chief said, warning that impunity can only encourage the guilty and further erode trust in the state.
Despite public statements expressing intentions to secure accountability and set up investigative committees, “there were few prosecutions for the killing and serious injuries to protesters,” he said.
Rising unemployment, years of corruption and the failure of public services had sparked massive anti-government protests in early October 2019. However, to date, no information has been made public about the patterns of violent attacks on protesters and critics, attributed to the so-called unidentified armed actors.
Turning to the restriction of freedom of expression in the Kurdistan region, Ms Hennis-Plasschaert told the Council that critics risk intimidation, movement restrictions and arbitrary arrests, adding that some have even been prosecuted under national security laws.
Meanwhile, as representatives of Kurdistan’s federal and regional governments discuss security arrangements, progress in administration and reconstruction remains slow.
“The absence of an institutionalized dialogue and implementation mechanism between Baghdad and Erbil is perceived negatively, fueling misperceptions and distrust,” said the UN official.
On a positive note was the approval of the Yazidi Survivors Act which provides for the compensation and legal recognition of ISIL atrocities against women and girls as crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity.
While progress is being made in combating the remnants of ISIL, “terrorism continues to claim too many innocent lives,” said Ms Hennis-Plasschaert.
He described rockets and IEDs as “a constant in Iraqi life” used by “cynical and insensitive armed entities” to destabilize the country.
Despite the government’s goal of bringing all weapons under state control, “we are seeing the use of new capabilities by non-state actors, with potentially devastating effects,” he said.
In the past seven months, 16 camps for internally displaced persons have been closed or reclassified.
Often carried out at short notice, the necessary preparations have not been made for the safe return of some 50,000 Iraqis to their areas of origin, the UN envoy said.
“When the camps are closed before the conditions for repatriation are appropriate, Iraqis face serious consequences,” he explained, pointing to their rejection by local communities, lack of protection from the authorities and even physical attacks on returnees.
“This is certainly not the way to recovered and stabilized communities,” said the head of UNAMI.