Trafficking in persons makes the headlines of newspapers again in the region. This time, it is the trafficking in Syrian girls and widows under the pretext of marriage and protection. This brings back to memory the plights of the Iraq war, as some of the female refugees were subjected to conditions of trafficking in Iraq’s neighboring countries and some of the Gulf States. Trafficking in persons is a phenomenon that accompanies wars and unrest.
One international NGO has recently worked closely with the Iraqi government and local NGOs in this field. Heartland Alliance says “whenever people are forced to become refugees, they are vulnerable to being exploited. Trafficking exists in Iraq right now, and it might occur in the Syrian refugee community”.
Iraq, while still under Tier 2 Watch List according to the latest US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report 2012, has made some progress last year and certainly has a good anti-trafficking Law to start with.
However, and despite efforts exerted by several international and national organizations, participation of civil society in combating trafficking in persons in Iraq is not as strong as it needs to be.
Vulnerability of Refugees
In response to several reports about cases in which Jordanian men were marrying young Syrian girls from the Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan under the pretext of protecting them, a group of Syrian activists launched an online campaign called “Refugees, not Spoils of War”, reported Lebanon Now.[i]
In other countries, similar stories are evident. But in Al-Qaem Camp in Anbar-Iraq, you hear different stories. The family and tribal connections among the Syrian refugees, who only recently started crossing to Iraq seeking safe refuge, and the host communities in Iraq are very strong and respected by all. According to one Iraqi NGO, only one case of sexual assault was reported in the al-Qaem Camp and was solved immediately. Another factor playing a major role in protecting young Syrian girls from such a destiny is the almost full closure of the camp by the Iraqi government, which closely monitors the in-and-out movement.
However, Heartland Alliance draws attention to the following fact: “trafficking can occur within a country, without the victim ever crossing an international border. For example, many Arab women from the south were kidnapped by armed militias in 2006 and some of them were sold for prostitution in the Kurdistan region. Others were transported across international borders, to Syria, the UAE and Lebanon. There was one case in which the police arrested a man in Kirkuk who was in the business of selling women to Syria. The same thing can happen now, in the other direction, with Syrian women being forced into prostitution in Iraq. Up to date, no such cases were reported, but it is possible that this is happening or might happen”.
UN agencies, such as UNAMI and UNHCR are certainly aware that trafficking occurs. Anyone who suspects that trafficking is occurring can contact a UN agency. The EU has provided capacity building to the judiciary and relevant governmental entities. IOM also monitors trafficking in persons as well as various women’s organizations that work on gender-based violence and routinely come across victims of trafficking.
For its part, Heartland Alliance is committed to assisting the Iraqi government and the KRG to implement the law and is always available for consultation.
Precautious measures do need to be put in place as of now.
Anti-Trafficking in Persons Laws in the Region
Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and more recently Iraq have issued anti-trafficking in persons laws to prohibit all forms of trafficking. Turkey is yet to issue a similar law.
Although the anti-trafficking in persons law in Iraq, described as a “comprehensive” one by the State Department Report, is enforced, no prosecutions have so far been implemented. Iraq has convicted some traffickers under other laws, charging the perpetrators of kidnapping, assault and involvement in prostitution.
The Central Committee, formed under Article 2 of the Iraqi Trafficking in Persons Law, titled the Central Committee to Prevent Human Trafficking, has convened a couple of times and drafted executive orders, which usually interpret a given law to facilitate implementation. In late September 2012, a meeting chaired by Baghdad’s Governor took place in order to “draft a strategy to activate the functionalities of the counter trafficking in persons Committee.” Members of the Committee include representatives from Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Justice, Finance, Social Affairs and Immigration as well as the Human Rights Commission, Kurdistan Regional Government and Iraqi provinces, but no civil society organization is on board.
Heartland Alliance in Iraq
In a recently implemented project, Heartland Alliance provided legal representation and social services to victims of human trafficking, assisted the Iraqi government in prosecuting traffickers, and trained law enforcement and NGOs to identify and respond to human trafficking.
The project took place in Baghdad, Basra, the KRG, Jordan and Lebanon. The project assisted more than 200 victims over three years in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, with the largest number in Baghdad. Heartland Alliance assisted in the prosecution of more than 12 persons for forcing women into prostitution or other forms of forced labor. The ones that occurred in Iraq prior to the passage of the Law were treated as rape cases and rape charges were brought against the offenders.
It is important to define trafficking because sometimes people confuse it with smuggling of persons, or with prostitution, says Heartland Alliance.
Trafficking is the act of recruiting, holding, selling or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them. Trafficking means that a trafficker forces a person to do some work or provide some service against their will or by tricking them. Common forms of trafficking include forced prostitution, taking the passports and then physically or sexually abusing domestic servants, and tricking children or persons with disabilities into working without pay. Trafficking can take place within national boundaries or across international boundaries.
A majority of the trafficking victims assisted by Heartland Alliance were women and girls forced into prostitution. Heartland Alliance also assisted some foreign workers. The NGO also collaborated with IOM, the Iraqi Government and the KRG government on an effort to get an anti-trafficking act passed in Iraq, which occurred last spring.
Currently, Heartland Alliance works with the Central Committee on implementing the Law.
Gaps in Addressing the Problem
Heartland Alliance believes there are several gaps that need to be addressed.
As parts of Iraq become more peaceful, foreign workers are again entering the country. This is especially true in the KRG. One of the biggest gaps is the lack of a government response to protect foreign workers who have their passports taken from them, or are forced to do some work they did not agree to, or are abused by their employers. A recent report on domestic servants in Jordan and Lebanon showed that more than half of foreign domestic servants were physically abused by their employers, forced to do work that was not in their contract, and in some cases sexually abused by their employers. This problem also occurs in Iraq. The central government and particularly the KRG need to establish enforcement mechanisms so that foreign workers can complain about abuses, be listened to, and be protected. Employers should not be allowed to take away workers’ passports or restrict workers from leaving the house. The government needs to control employment agencies and assure that they educate all foreign workers of their rights. Employment agencies serve a valuable function but they need to help prevent trafficking and they also need to be regulated and monitored by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, and the Ministry of Interior.
Women and girls who are forced into prostitution are at terrible risk anywhere in Iraq. Police and judges sometimes do not consider coercion or force as a defense in prostitution cases. It is important for everyone to remember that if a woman was forced into prostitution she is a victim and not a criminal. Sometimes women and girls are forced into prostitution by their own families. Other families may feel such shame over what happened that they blame the girl and even try to kill her. Safety planning and confidentiality are really important. Often women can be reunited with their families but this has to be arranged and monitored very carefully. One of the remaining problems is making sure that women who cannot reunite with their families can live safely and independently without becoming victims of trafficking again.
Any organization that works with female victims of trafficking should have a background in protecting victims of gender-based violence, because some of the problems facing the women are the same. Above all, any program addressing the problem has to take a victim-centered approach. Sometimes the easiest solution is not the best. Victims of trafficking lose the ability to make decisions regarding their own lives. Programs who assist victims of trafficking have a responsibility not only to protect them, but to give them back the power to make decisions over their lives.
Heartland Alliance partnered with local NGOs, including Harikar and al-Masala in the KRG to implement the project. The local NGOs received training on legal services and also on mediation. Capacity building was also achieved through learning-by-doing as the national NGOs worked closely with an INGO whose mission is to advance the human rights and respond to the human needs of endangered populations—particularly the poor, the isolated, and the displaced—through the provision of comprehensive and respectful services and the promotion of permanent solutions leading to a more just global society.
Heartland Alliance trained many policemen and also Asaysh in the KRG. Some of them might be monitoring the situation in view of the recent influx of Syrian refugees. Some police are dedicated and understand the issue. They can be counted on to assist a trafficking victim in a humane way.
NGOs and CSOs can be involved in several ways, says Heartland Alliance.
First, NGOs and CSOs can educate themselves and Iraqi society on trafficking, and reinforce the idea that women and girls are not property. Women who are forced into prostitution are victims and not criminals. Likewise, women and girls should not be forced to marry against their will, or be traded in order to settle problems between families, as still occurs in some parts of Iraq. Changing these patterns requires education, and both NGOs and CSOs have a big role to play.
Second, many women’s organizations are already important in providing services to victims of trafficking. They need more funding, and they need official support from government agencies. Women’s organizations can also work collaboratively with the police to monitor women’s rights and help educate police on identifying victims.
Third, NGOs and CSOs can provide information on trafficking to IOM, which tracks and monitors human trafficking in Iraq.
Fourth, NGOs and CSOs should remember that foreign workers may become victims of trafficking. Those organizations that have legal services projects or run shelters should be prepared to assist foreign workers on occasion, if the worker is at risk of violence.
Civil society organizations and NGOs working in Iraq are encouraged to launch more initiatives to prevent trafficking in persons and protect the victims. They are called on to participate.
N.B. Heartland Alliance’s mediation manual is available on its website at: www.heartlandalliance.org/international.
Although Iraq’s revenue is rapidly increasing, official consideration of humanitarian issues is taking a back seat, external funding for development is diminishing, and corruption appears to be thriving amidst undemocratic practices. These issues are most clearly manifested in the nation’s 2013 budget proposal, the largest budget in the country’s history. Out of the colossal 138 trillion Iraqi Dinars (USD 118.6 billion), most notable are the allocations to oil production in the form of foreign and domestic projects, the security and defense sectors, and the Prime Minister’s office. To be sure, the primary reason for the exceptionally large budget is oil revenue and production, as Iraq boasts the fourth largest oil reserves in the world and may quickly become the world’s second largest oil producer. It is, therefore, worth exploring how Iraq’s 2013 budget reflects the ways in which oil production affects state power, humanitarian funding, and social programs.
Oil Production and State Power
Proposed by the Ministry of Finance, the 2013 budget displays an 18% increase from the 2012 budget of ID117 trillion. According to Ali al-Dabbagh, an official government spokesperson, the figures are partially based on expected average oil prices of $90 per barrel, and exports of 2.9 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) (of which 250 thousand bpd are planned from the Kurdistan region). Revenues based on these calculations are expected to contribute to 95% of the 2013 budget. These figures are compared to Iraq's 2012 draft budget, which forecasted oil exports of 2.6 million bpd, a significant increase from Iraq's average of 2.2 million bbl/day in 2011. In fact, predictions are being made all the way up to the year 2035 of a yearly average of $200bn in oil revenue (The Guardian).
Although it is clear that Iraq’s oil exports and revenues are increasing, the strong influence of oil production on Iraq’s budget works both politically and socially. To be sure, many of the world’s developed and developing economies depend heavily on oil. However, there appear to be inconsistencies between the domestic politics of oil producers and oil consumers. The production and consumption of oil often seem to have a connection to undemocratic practices, albeit in different ways. This is not to say that oil production leads directly to corruption or repression, but rather corruption and repression may be facilitated by complex relationships that have developed with the evolution of the oil industry. Although this correlation may be due to economic pressures or a desire to repress populations and buy political support, Timothy Mitchell argues that this trend may also be related to the properties of oil, the means of production, cash flow, and the dependent relationship between oil producers and oil consumers.
In fact, the budget can be viewed as a medium through which state power and undemocratic practices are reinforced by oil. One need only refer to the recent pressures on Kurdistan by Baghdad to halt their unilateral oil deals with ExxonMobil and Chevron, condemning the deals as “illegal,” then allocating 250 thousand bpd to the KRG to control energy flow and curb potential conflict. This conflict revolves largely around the oil and gas law, or lack thereof, and drilling territory. Due to the fact that claims to the disputed territories are not resolved, and would have to be in order for there to be a comprehensive oil and gas law, Baghdad and the KRG have clashed over contracts, jurisdiction, production, and other issues. The hydrocarbons draft law has been in negotiations since 2007 and there does not seem to be a consensus in the near future. Additionally, Kurdistan refused to vote in favor of the proposed budget because the salary of the Peshmarga was not included, while other allocations for security in Iraq make up 14% of the budget.
These events illustrate how power and security are tightly bound to oil via the budget. In other words, oil is used to bolster internal security, while restricting and controlling resources and defense. When one examines the budget’s content this becomes more pronounced. ID19.86 trillion is marked for security and defense sectors, ID13.6 trillion is reserved for foreign oil companies' projects, and ID405.88 million alone is reserved for the Prime Minister’s office, compared to ID12.71 trillion for education and ID17.7 trillion for social services. (It should be noted that the funds allocated to the Prime Minister’s office are officially for social benefits, such as the Women’s Care Department, which are facilitated by his office.) These numbers indicate not only that power and security in Iraq flow through oil, but also that power lies with the Prime Minister and the government’s priorities revolve around security and defense.
The central government has tried to curb the autonomy not only of the KRG, but also of oil laborers through law, intelligence, and security measures. As a result, the government more effectively controls the means of oil production, which is also strengthened through the budget, and uses it as a tool against demands for workers rights. In February, 2011, Baghdad implemented crackdowns (not for the first time) on illegal strikes and unions at Kirkuk’s North Oil Company, as well as strikes in Basra during the past several years. Although workers still form unions despite their illegality, legislation has not yet changed and strikes continue to be suppressed. Furthermore, because of an abundance of human resources in the country, a relatively low level of specialization required for menial oil labor, and the government’s effective enforcement of power, strikes and unions are not as effective as they need to be. Thus, in Iraq’s case, oil production actually works to oppose democratic practices.
On the other hand, the stifling of pluralism and representation in Iraq also comes in the form of corruption, which is just as prominently linked to money, power, and oil. Baghdad and Moscow’s recently botched arms deal, allegedly due to corruption and bribery of the Iraqi officials who were negotiating, demonstrates the inability of the central government to fulfill its goals. Thus, corruption not only takes the form of repression on the street and in public spaces, but also in private among public officials. LUKOIL, Russia’s second largest crude producer, concurrently has plans to accept an offer from Exxon to take over West Qurna-1 oilfield (Reuters) and it is already in the process of developing West Qurna-2. So although there is a chance that Baghdad and Moscow may not benefit from a weapons deal and exchange tools of hard power, they are already cooperating in their production of soft power in southern Iraq.
Humanitarian and Social Programs
Although exorbitant spending on defense and energy is a common trait between oil producers and oil consumers, the way by which it affects humanitarian and social affairs regarding external funding, domestic programs, and civil society, is particularly stark in oil producing nations. High revenue, as a result of oil, make it easy and convenient to ignore or mask numerous inequalities in income and services. According to a previous NCCI op-ed, “In 2008, far fewer donors contributed about $473.6 million to humanitarian assistance in Iraq. In perspective, there was an 86% decrease in funding since the peak of funding in 2003.” Most recently, ECHO decreased funding from EUR 8 million (2012) to EUR 7 million (2013) for their humanitarian action plan (HIP) in Iraq, despite the fact that the country belongs to “category 3 (most severe) of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DG ECHO) crisis index and to category 2 of DG ECHO’s vulnerability index for 2012”(ECHO/WWD/BUD/2013/0100; emphasis added). The report cites Iraq’s economic growth and need to focus on capacity building, as opposed to rebuilding, for its reasons to decrease funding, yet the report strangely acknowledges that 23% of the population (7 million people) lives below the poverty line. With a clear reference to inequality and growth, the report does not address that the government actually does have the capacity to generate revenue or that corruption and repression are the problems regarding inequality. Instead of identifying the sources, destinations, and ways by which national profits are generated and contribute to the long-term problem, programs focus on short-term goals, which, while important, cannot function alone as a remedy.
Moreover, responsible domestic budgeting and administration is just as important as high revenue and funding. Hollowing out institutions in the name of security, intelligence, and reform does not foster valuable growth. In mid-November, the Iraqi Cabinet announced plans to eliminate food ration cards, which the government had been distributing since the 1990s when Iraq was struggling with international sanctions under Saddam Hussein’s regime. The decision to eliminate the rations was quickly reversed after public outcry, despite the sentiment that the system has been quite ineffective. According to The Iraqi Knowledge Network, for example, 80 percent of Iraqi families who had ration cards had only ever received one of the items on the ration card list between 2010 and 2011. This reveals the government’s inability to adequately deliver social services, as well as a portion of the public’s dependency (real or psychological) on services that seldom deliver. When supplemented with the ECHO report it becomes apparent that there is a discrepancy between international donations/donors, capacity building, and government services. A recent BBC report also noted a recent survey, estimating that between 800,000 to a million Iraqi children have lost one or both of their parents. However, Iraq's Deputy Minister for Social Affairs, Dara Yara, said that "We are working day and night to improve the services we provide to orphans. But the money I'm allocated for this is very limited. And the whole social security system in this country needs reform.” A recent UNICEF survey also highlighted further inequalities among children, noting that one in three (5.6 million) children in Iraq suffer from at least one of the following: inadequate access to and promotion of health services; lack of access to quality education; violence against children in schools and families; psychological trauma from years of extreme violence; discrimination; prolonged detention in juvenile facilities; insufficient attention to the special needs of children with disabilities and who are not in their family environment; and lack of access to information and participation in cultural life.
On the surface, Iraq’s budget provides only a few ways by which revenue, state power, and corruption are linked, but when reviewed more carefully in the context of Iraq’s politics and society, the relationship between money, power, oil, and humanitarian concerns are revealed. Each of these elements and institutions produces and reproduces power in different ways. Incidentally, yet on a macro scale, this also illuminates the irony of America’s policy of bringing democracy to Iraq, from which the U.S. received massive benefits as an oil consumer, while facilitating and influencing oil production. Despite projections of mass economic growth in Iraq’s future, this in no way guarantees structural or social change. If there is to be a more vibrant civil society, more effective social services programs, democratic capacity, and reform of structural inequality, workers and other disenfranchised groups must be allowed to voice their demands, international organizations must work with local groups to produce effective and necessary programs, and the means of oil production — including the depletion of fossil fuels — must be reassessed.
A year following the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq questions regarding the nation’s political, security, and human rights infrastructure have taken a front seat in public debate. To be sure, the burgeoning democracy has many challenges ahead, many of which are not necessarily a result of the withdrawal but rather the effects of America’s invasion and subsequent reconstruction policies. In politics, force and power take precedence over compromise and dialogue, while many governorates, particularly Ninawa and Kirkuk, face almost daily attacks, which the nation’s security forces attempt to contain. On the other hand, human rights is a primary concern of civil society organizations, non-governmental organization, and even government ministries, who each try to work together, yet often face conflict, when attempting to build capacity to relieve the nation’s humanitarian problems.
Iraq’s Security Condition
Prior to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, the disputed territories of Ninewa, Kirkuk, Diyala, and Salah al-Din had been primarily under the control of the American military, though still relatively insecure. However, during the past year these regions have remained Iraq’s most dangerous territories, with almost daily car bombs and violent attacks, while the Southern governorates are now much safer. In fact, the promise of increased safety seems fleeting, as September 2012 marked the most dangerous month in Iraq in over two years, with 365 deaths reported.[i]
Mosul stands out as one of the most dangerous cities, experiencing near daily attacks, as well as violations by local security forces. The Islamic State of Iraq (al-Qaeda’s Iraqi counterpart) still maintains strong influence in Ninawa and at one point, in 2011, deployed extortion, or a “jizya” tax, on the local government.[ii] Some even assert that any semblance of democracy in the governorate may only lead to more tribal influence.[iii] In mid-December of 2012, a series of deadly explosions and attacks occurred throughout Iraq, killing at least 29 people, 7 of whom were killed in Mosul.[iv]
Due partially to the lack and destruction of administrative, social, and security infrastructure by the U.S. military, as well as the lack of capacity building by reconstruction efforts, violence in many governorates remains a constant concern.
Violence, however, is not limited to non-government militias. Recently, Ninewa has taken center stage in an episode surrounding Iraq’s internal security violations against women. The rape of a 17 year old minor by an Army officer of the second division triggered outrage by government officials, particularly Iraqiyya List member Hamid al-Mutlaq, and citizens alike, resulting in the officer’s pending prosecution and sentencing.[v]
Iraq’s political space is also often occupied by force and coercion, as political opponents resort to methods that involve abuse of power, as opposed to mediation.
Earlier this year, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi was indicted on terrorism charges, incurring a death sentence from which he subsequently fled to Turkey. While many debate whether the charges are legitimate and based on truth, al-Hashimi and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hail from rival political parties, al-Iraqiyya block and al-Dawa respectively, resulting in speculation by some that al-Maliki used the judicial apparatus to exile (or effectively destroy) his political opponent.
Most recently, in an event that echoes the al-Hashimi episode, Minister of Finance, Rafei al-Essawi’s government offices were raided by militia forces, ending in the detention of the Minister’s guards and co-workers. And because al-Essawi also belongs to al-Iraqiyya block, many speculate on al-Maliki’s intentions as efforts to purge government ministries of his rivals.[vi]
This sparked protests across al-Anbar province, not completely aimed at the raids, but target to a large extent toward al-Maliki’s dubious use of power and force. According to Al Jazeera, Hikmat Iyada, provincial councilor for Anbar, told the protesters "We are gathered today not for Essawi and his bodyguards, but to change the course of this sectarian government and to overthrow Maliki's government…"
While many blame sectarian divisions as political obstacles, this ostensible political reality could be attributed to the invasion forces’ administrative policies of drawing political identities based on religion and ethnicity, while viewing political groups’ demands through a sectarian lens. By dealing with diverse interest groups in this way, and acting as a self-proclaimed “neutral” party by which direct negotiations between political groups do not take place, the U.S. administration set the stage for ethnic and religious tensions.
Humanitarian Issues in post-Withdrawal Iraq
Furthermore, Iraq’s larger humanitarian condition remains fragile. That being said, there have been some significant attempts at improving the situation both by the government and other organizations, though with recurring conflict on all sides. While the Iraqi Parliament and UNOPS got the wheels turning to draft the first policy on civil society, the civil society has been pretty much occupied advocating against a recent order issued by the Secretary General of Council of Ministers that “subjects NGOs to taxes and fees like companies.”
NGOs and civil society organizations face so many issues that taxes might be the least of them when human rights come to mind. On the Human Rights Day in December 2012, various Iraqi human rights entities, including ones established by the government, voiced their concerns about violations of human rights to which the Iraqis are subjected. In an interview with al-Aalam Newspaper on the 11th of December, Salama al-Khafaji member of the High Commission of Human Rights said “Iraqis are subject to huge violations and there is a need to make great efforts in order to create an environment where human rights can be applied.”
Human Rights in Iraq
While non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations have a relatively short history in Iraq, the history of human rights in the last ten years is quite deep. Violations, particularly the atrocious Abu-Ghraib episodes, by occupation forces in prisons and in public remain fresh in the Iraqi memory, while the arguably contradictory yet beneficial monetary contributions by the United States and other coalition forces had supported reconstruction a great deal. After the withdrawal, however, the drop in global humanitarian aid to Iraq has been cumbersome, as well as the state in which the nation was left: to essentially pull itself up by its bootstraps.
In a report published by the UK (the Foreign & Commonwealth Office's Annual Human Rights Report for 2011), human rights in Iraq were described as improving. The report stated “Iraq continues to deal with the legacy of decades of appalling human rights violations under Saddam Hussein’s regime, as well as institutional deficiencies and the fallout of the 2003 Iraq War. The precarious security situation and political tensions within the Iraqi government have made progress and engagement on human rights difficult, and we have not yet reached the point where a culture that respects human rights is ingrained in Iraqi society.”
The UK report has appraised the advancement of Iraq, saying “Iraq faces many human rights challenges as it emerges from years of conflict, but it is important to recognize the progress that has been made by the Government of Iraq and Iraqi civil society. Indeed, since this report was written, we have seen the establishment of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights and the publication of the National Action Plan on human rights”.[vii]
Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights said on its website, regarding the reports, that “despite the challenges and difficulties facing Iraq,” it is “advancing much on human rights.”
The Ministry of Human Rights goes on to list some of the most controversial newly-issued laws on freedom of expression, including the Journalists Rights Law of 2011, as examples of the achievements made in the field of human rights, despite the gaps found in several of these law that make them according to observers a tool to restrict rather than enhance the freedom of expression.[viii]
One local NGO, told al-Aalam newspaper that the “situation of human rights in Iraq is unbalanced, as improvements are seen in one aspect only to have deterioration in another,” said Shaza Naji the head of Women for Peace Organization.
Who is Doing What?:
Ministry of Human Rights
The Ministry of Human Rights was established in 2003. Although its mandate covers all human rights abuses in Iraq, the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rightshas to date primarily focused on recording the abuses of the Ba’athist Administration. The investigation of the crimes of the previous administration of the country is certainly necessary and commendable for any national Iraqi human rights body. However the investigation of the past should not occur in the place or at the expense of the investigation of human rights abuses occurring on the watch of the current government.
High Commission for Human Right
When formed in 2008, the High Commission for Human Rights was hailed as a “milestone” that will further support the existing efforts by the national Government’s human rights ministry, the judiciary, the Council of Representatives, law enforcement agencies and civil society groups, said Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq at the time.
Four years later, the HCHR is still inactive. According to Dr. Bushra Al-Obeidi member of the HCHR, the latter needs 19 million dollars to commence its activities. The requested money will be spent on logistics, hiring, etc.
The good news is that the HCHR will abstain from tackling old political-humanitarian cases, including the prisoners and missing persons files of the Iranian-Iraqi war or the Saddam invasion of Kuwait, leaving such files to the Ministry of Human Rights while focusing on current violations of human rights[ix].
Iraqi Federation of Human Rights Defenders Established
The establishment of the Iraqi Federation of Human Rights Defenders was officially announced in Erbil on July 16th, 2012, a precedent in Iraq as it represents the first union of its kind. Members of the Federation included academics, media personnel, workers of human rights organizations and activists defending human rights. The Federation aims to creating a society where freedom and the dignity of human beings are fully respected.
In September 2012, the Federation called on civil society organizations, NGOs, the Academia, journalists, and human rights activists to apply to join the Administrative Body of the Federation that will be selected in a general conference to be held before the end of 2012. So far, there is no news about the said conference.
Outlook and Conclusion
To be sure, a number of Iraq’s institutions remain unstable and fragile. Political corruption and the government’s lack of capacity to deliver basic security and services prolong other humanitarian problems, while NGOs and CSOs struggle to build a strong civil society and advocate against poor policy. However, there are still signs of national cohesion and public organization for which the government cannot take responsibility, showing signs of unity and a popular desire for change.
Recent protests in al-Anbar against Nouri al-Maliki’s policies and use of power as well as continuous dialogue between government offices and humanitarian organizations signify public agency that may move politics beyond violence and corruption and past that which was limited by occupation. Thus, if substantial change is to occur, it will not come from the government but from the Iraqi political public and civil society.
To mark its 10th anniversary, NCCI is publishing a series of 5 op-ed interviews during each week in April. The interviews will be held with individuals who have worked closely with NCCI for all or part of the past 10 years. The following interview focuses on NCCI’s early history to give readers an insight into early challenges, successes, and initiatives, and it includes interviews with:
Former Executive Coordinator (2005-2008)
Former Field Coordinator (2003-2005)
NCCI: At the onset of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there were a few NGO coordination organizations, which included OCHA, Joint NGO Preparedness Initiative (JNEPI), and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA). After the war, the civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) also began organizing humanitarian initiatives. What inspired the need for an NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq?
Board Member: After the invasion it was impossible for humanitarian actors to work under the CIMIC or US troops’ coordination since it would imply disregarding the ICRC code of conduct (impartiality, neutrality, autonomy). US led troops were, until a legitimate Iraqi government was elected, an occupation force, and working with them would de facto mean to be on their side. This became a serious problem when security conditions started to deteriorate (attacks against UN offices, attack against ICRC, kidnappings, etc.). NCCI was extremely needed in that context to defend the humanitarian space from the different parties in the conflict and also to coordinate activities since the UN could not set up a cluster system in Iraq.
NCCI: Was there a specific prior organization or plan on which NCCI was modeled?
Former Executive Coordinator (2005-2008): Not really, some NGOs experimented with a coordination body in Rwanda in the 90’s and in Afghanistan in 2001/2. NCCI was not based on a specific model and instead designed based on the needs of NGOs at that time. NCCI evolved a lot in 10 years to adapt itself to the context and the needs of NGOs.
NCCI: What was the vision of the relationship that NCCI would maintain with its members, non-member INGOs, and non-member NNGOs?
Board Member: Since the beginning, NCCI was an inclusive process trying to expand its membership as much as possible. There was a specific attempt, since the beginning, to avoid a western or European led initiative and involving Iraqi and international NGOs. In the first years, INGOs were leading the process, as more NNGOs became involved and became an active part of the process.
NCCI: What were some key challenges that the formation of NCCI faced in its earliest stages and how were these overcome?
Board Member: Security was a serious challenge in the beginning. This meant not only the need for security officers who were constantly advising members about threats and challenges, but also an objective difficulty in identifying appropriate and professional staff who were accepting to live in Baghdad. Funding, on the contrary, was not a challenge since a lot of international donors, and among them ECHO has been for a long time the main sponsor, were acknowledging the importance and role of NCCI.
NCCI: In 2003, while other coordination organizations, such as JNEPI, were losing capacity, NCCI was growing in both size and efficacy. What were some of the reasons for NCCI’s early success and how was this accomplished?
Former Field Coordinator (2003-2005): ECHO’s generous financial support to NCCI was one of the biggest reasons behind the success of NCCI. The departure of the UN after the bombing of its [headquarters] in the Canal Hotel, and NCCI subsequently taking the lead for coordinating NGOs, UN agencies, and in some cases for government entities where there was no government, is another reason for its success. At that time they initiated [working groups] for IDPs, Health, Education, WASH, etc… Additionally, NCCI was the main source for information and field coordination for the HC of the UN based in Amman.
Being neutral all the time, not being part of military operations, and not being escorted by military vehicles were other reasons for NCCI’s success. Its regular coordination meetings for all stakeholders working in humanitarian activities, the officially shared minutes of all meetings, and general information sharing when there is no other neutral channel available on the ground is yet another reason. Additional reasons include creating WWW maps and sharing them with all members; the establishment of NCCI offices in four areas inside and outside Iraq: Baghdad, Erbil, Kuwait, Amman, and also field staff in the Basra office.
For all the above, NCCI was respected by all, including beneficiaries and communities, which helped NCCI extend its reach into all places in Iraq, while encouraging others to listen to NCCI and to utilize its services.
NCCI: What benefits was NCCI able to deliver that other organizations were not? And what was the difference between these benefits and services toward NNGOs and INGOs?
Former Field Coordinator (2003-2005): After the US-led invasion of Iraq, there were very few NNGOs (National NGOs). As in Iraqi culture before the war, we did not have actual NGOs with visions, as there are in other countries. I will not go into details as I’m sure you understand what I mean by that. NGOs were a new concept to Iraqis at that time. After the war, the civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) began organizing humanitarian initiatives and this was catastrophic for creating NNGOs since anyone could come and register as an NGO and attend this meeting and would be considered an NGO, and would have been given an amount of money up to $5000 to do a project after attending a few meetings. This lead to the creation of hundreds of “suit case” NGOs, and destroyed the image and vision of real NNGOs, leading to a lack of trust in their work.
For INGOs, especially those who wanted to be viewed as impartial and neutral and not linked to armed forces, or those who were not ready to be linked with occupation authorities since it would affect their status and image in front of beneficiaries, they were looking to independent bodies for coordination, especially after the Canal Hotel bombing (UN HQ) and the absence of a government.
At the early stages, NCCI was a great benefit to INGOs (more than NNGOs for the above reasons), especially the European ones. The emerging NNGOs at that time were looking for funds, which were available mainly from the Americans, as the UN and others did not fund many new NNGOs with the instability on the ground, so funds were given to INGOs. At that time it was discussed to use a mentor approach with national staff at INGOs and help them create NNGOs. Not all INGOs were ready to do so, but the few NGOs who participated in this process were able to continue in Iraq after the departure of most INGOs and the UN in Iraq.
NCCI sometimes played an important role for coordination not only for INGOs but also for the UN and the CPA in Iraq. Also, during the Najaf and Falluja crises, the humanitarian space that was opened with the help of NCCI helped to provide aid for casualties and for these cities.