After a month of interviews highlighting many years of challenges, successes, and future prospects of NCCI, a final reflection on Iraq’s current situation and NCCI’s vision for future humanitarian work will hopefully serve to contextualize the purpose of many questions and answers. While it has been 10 years since the invasion of Iraq and the launch of the international humanitarian and developmental aid work in the country, it can be argued that little progress or stability has been witnessed in Iraq. It is without a doubt that most, if not all, gaps in Iraq are linked either directly or indirectly to the challenging political climate and the absence of a strong collective voice to represent the Iraqi community as a unified entity based on Iraqi national bond.
A simple yet revealing indicator of impact of the conflict in Iraq is that the average life expectancy at birth today is 58 years, which decreased from 65 years recorded in the 1980’s, and ten years less than the average for the region (67.5 years) and the world (68 years). The distribution of the Iraqi population is also another indicator of the impact of the conflict, as there are around 1.5 million IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in Iraq and almost twice that number living as refugees outside Iraq, according to UNHCR.
Iraq was once among the most diversified economies of the region, but today its high dependence on oil revenues has become a problem. This high dependency on oil is having an adverse effect as few/limited employment opportunities are generated, and fluctuations in oil prices and revenues invoke political tension, which in turn fuels disagreement over the ownership and division of revenue sources. 60% of Iraq’s GDP is generated from oil, and it accounts for 99% of exports and over 90% of the government’s revenue.
However, more than infrastructure, services and general economics, Iraq needs peace and reconciliation to exist among its own sons and daughters, without the influence of external powers that are not always aligned with the country’s best interests. This type of national healing can be only built internally by the country’s diverse communities, and if it is achieved then the possibilities for this exhausted country can truly be limitless.
NCCI is an organization that is dedicated to strengthening the coordination of aid and information sharing in Iraq, and many of its efforts are concentrated on strengthening Iraqi NGOs and CSOs to become more active and relevant to the building and healing process in the country. While the lack of mechanisms for effective participation hinders the ability of citizens to claim their full rights, it must be said that despite the national and regional tensions, the civil society community has been growing in size and effectiveness over the past ten years. In the years following the invasion and the civil war, the relationship between the population and authorities is becoming more cooperative and mutually accountable. Furthermore, local NGOs are beginning to play a larger role in Iraq’s development and civil society coordination. NCCI believes that this type of social development and integration is an essential factor for moving forward, and will therefore continue working to support the Iraqi civil society so that in the next ten years it can be said that it was not the politicians, the economists or the foreign countries that turned Iraq around, but instead it was the emerging sense of social responsibility and leadership of the Iraqi community that actually saved Iraq. As this change occurs, NCCI’s future role may take various forms in coordination or advocacy. However, this will be determined by the needs of the Iraqi community as a whole.
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 future and impact to give readers an insight into how NCCI can better serve its network in the coming years and its wider impact on Iraq’s humanitarian space. The following includes interviews with:
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator
Former NCCI Communications Coordinator (2005-2008)
Former NCCI Executive Coordinator (2011-2012)
1) As NNGOs gain capacity and improve efficacy, how can NCCI remain a relevant actor?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: NCCI’s relevance lies in its coordination role. A coordination forum/mechanism is relevant independent of the capacity of the NNGOs. One could even argue that the stronger and more efficient the NNGOs are, the more important it is that they operate in a coordinated and complementary manner in order to ensure effectiveness and avoid contradicting objectives and priorities.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: I think greater NGO capacity will only increase the need and role for NCCI. Countries with highly developed civil society organizations have umbrella groups similar to NCCI. NCCI is well on track to become this “must have” umbrella group in Iraq. There will always be NGO interests and concerns that can be most effectively presented to government jointly through an organization like NCCI.
DRC-Country Director: Continuation of support (provide direction, training, advocate access to funding, advocate placement/necessity in the country). NCCI could also be a leading organization on information sharing and organization of intervention as to avoid duplication in services provided or any other civil society efforts.
2) As this shift occurs, what are some ways by which international organizations can continue to support NCCI’s mission?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: Having acknowledged the important short and long-term role of NNGOs, International organizations must also acknowledge the importance of effective coordination and partnership between the NNGOs. With these acknowledgements in the mind, international organizations should:
1. Work, liaise and coordinate with NCCI in a supportive and transparent manner.
2. Ensure that NCCI as a coordinating representative body for NNGOs maintains the capacity to fulfill its function as an independent, transparent, representative and accountable entity
3. In their efforts to build the capacity of civil society, international organizations should also increase awareness about the importance of coordination and collaboration and the value of NCCI as a mechanism for systematic coordination and cooperation. Only when the members of NCCI understand and accept the function of NCCI will they be able to maximize its usefulness and help it remain a credible representative body.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: In the middle term I think international organizations will continue to play the same role within NCCI and will continue to have the same needs for NCCI’s coordination and support. In the longer term local NGO’s may have a greater need to act collectively through NCCI, but I don’t think the needs of international NGO’s will diminish for quite some time.
3) What are ways by which NCCI can continue to facilitate good relations between NGOs and the Iraqi government?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: Lack of trust has been raised as a major barrier to an open and functioning relationship between NGOs and the government. NGOs should seek to better demonstrate the value of their work and the principles, rules and procedures by which they operate. Over time, consistency in the application of principles, rules and procedures will strengthen the credibility of the NGOs and with that the governments respect. NCCI as the representative entity should in particular take measures to interact with the government at different levels in a consistent and transparent manner. This includes measures to build common understandings and trust but also denunciation should the government take illegitimate restrictive measures towards NGOs. It is also important to move away from an individual-centric approach to an institutional approach to relationship building to ensure that the government understands and respects NGOs as institutions rather than individuals. NCCI should also continue to function as a source of reliable information to NGOs to enable its members a better informed dealing with the government. This would reduce NGO vulnerabilities that are often related to the lack of knowledge and information about, for example, governmental administrative procedures and regulations.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: I think NCCI has done this well already and has positioned itself well to continue to play and reinforce this role in the future. While registration and visa issues may resolve in the middle-term future, there will be new issues of government policy toward NGO’s that NCCI will be in the best position to take up.
4) And ways by which NCCI can encourage government sponsorship of Iraqi civil society?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: When the government, at central or local level, begins to appreciate the value of Iraqi civil society as partners in supporting development in the country and responding to the urgent needs of the population, it might begin sponsoring and funding the work of civil society. I do not know if this already exists, but NCCI could also promote the development of a policy of even law that obliges the government to allocate a certain amount of money to the strengthening of civil society. Local examples could also be a good way to illustrate how civil society - government partnership could work. NCCI should therefore keep track of such cases and disseminate the information to show the practical result of civil society – government partnerships.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: I’m not sure exactly how NCCI can go about this, but it is certainly important to continue to build NCCI membership and develop good relations with the executive and legislative branches of government to be in a position to encourage government sponsorship effectively.
5) What are potential problems for humanitarian coordination in Iraq’s future?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: The ethnic, political and sectarian polarizations that are becoming increasingly rooted in the society also penetrate the civil society. Cooperation and coordination would suffer.
Corruption and inefficient administration becomes the “normal” way of working in Iraq and that penetrates also the civil society whereby the various humanitarian actors fail to adhere to established standards, build credibility and mutual respect.
Without adequate funding, civil society becomes weaker both in terms of capacity and diversity. Competition for funding drives humanitarian actors away from transparency and cooperation. More (financial) powerful actors, such as international, dominate the dialogue, thereby limiting the scope of interaction and contribution from other actors.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: I’m not sure what problems may emerge, but it seems important to me for NCCI to work on building its membership, good cooperation among its members, and good relations with all levels and branches of government to be in a position to promote humanitarian coordination and solve problems.
6) How do NCCI’s members hope to benefit from NCCI in the coming years?
NRC-Protection and Advocacy Advisor: Have access to information and knowledge; Have regular access and interaction with other national and international organizations; Receive support and advise in their relations with the government; Speak with one, stronger, voice around important matters.
MCC-Iraq Program Coordinator: We at MCC hope to benefit, as we have in the past, from NCCI’s power to convene international and local NGO’s to facilitate networking and information sharing and from NCCI’s ability to facilitate the relationship between NGO’s and government.
NCCI’s Wider Effect
1) What are some ways by NCCI can serve as a model for local organizations in other emergency contexts that may lack a coordination organization’s presence?
Former NCCI Executive Coordinator (2011-2012): The inclusion of local NGOs in NCCI's membership and governing body is a very good example for other coordination networks. By simply bringing local organizations to the same security and coordination meetings, a more realistic understanding of local contexts is automatically transferred to the international organizations. Local NGO can also learn best practice models from INGOs and vice versa in some cases.
Former NCCI Communications Coordinator (2005-2008): As a relatively successful experience in a given context, it would be a mistake to want to reproduce the same thing elsewhere.
2) How has NCCI affected current coordination initiatives in other emergency contexts throughout the world?
Former NCCI Executive Coordinator (2011-2012): Some small initiatives began in 2012 for an NGO coordination Committee in Jordan in order to address the needs in Syria. NCCI shared coordination mechanisms including surveys on how to gather info from other agencies in order to rapidly generate a broad understanding of NGO locations and work.
3) What is the greatest impact that NCCI has had on coordinating civil society in Iraq?
Former NCCI Executive Coordinator (2011-2012): NCCI is now in a position to act as a gateway between international agencies and Iraqi NGOs and other civil society representatives and organizations. This is very significant in so far as it has reopened the space between local and international actors in an effort to repair the trust that was lost between the two.
Former NCCI Communications Coordinator (2005-2008): I do not think we coordinated civil society in Iraq but that we were part of the coordination regarding humanitarian and development NGOs. In addition, the impact could only be monitored by a proper evaluation, not from my thoughts. But I would say that amongst those NGOs who participated in coordination with NCCI, main feedbacks were that we relatively succeeded to keep genuine humanitarian principles on top of the agenda, make outsiders (and sometimes insiders) know that NGOs were still operating in Iraq despite their low profile, participated to bring back in some big NGOs by highlighting the on-going (and longtime hidden) humanitarian crisis or improving capacity of NGOs workers through trainings. But this was only from 2005 to 2008. Before, NCCI also enabled humanitarian coordination to remain present despite the departure of the UN. After 2008, I do not know.
“I had plans to leave Iraq, but now I realized I need to stay; I have to be an active member in my society; escape is not a solution”.
-- 20-year old university student targeted in Mobile Youth Team Project
On January 22nd 2012 NCCI held its final “Youth Build Peace” Conference to encourage a stronger policy debate on the advantages of integrating a community-based peace building approach throughout the country. Held in the Iraqi Parliament in partnership with UNOPS and the Parliamentary Committee on Civil Society, it represented the more formal, tried-and-true, elements of the program, at the intersection of policy makers, international donors and Civil Society leaders from a cross-section of Iraqi NGOs. Among the NGOs were representatives from each of the 44 organizations that came together to create, with NCCI, the “Peace-Builders Network” to design and implement the peace-building initiative which came to be known as the “Youth Build Peace Project”. However as important as its formal close, was the creative approach the Peace-Building Network took towards the project before it arrived at the Parliament’s door.
Among the essential principles agreed upon by the members of the Peace-Building Network was the desire, to bring youth into the role of partners in implementation of peace-building projects, rather than simply targets thereof. The second was the emphasis placed on non-traditional activities in peace-building. Use of non-traditional activities resulted in reaching a higher number of beneficiaries than originally forecasted-- 6,252 in total. It also facilitated the first principle of fostering youth leadership in peace-building, since youth participants designed many of the activities that took peace-building beyond the limits of conferences and workshops alone. The balance between formal training and non-traditional approaches was reflected in the distribution of the Campaign’s 85 diverse activities: 27 artistic activities, 9 athletic activities, 5 capacity building programs followed by 30 workshops, 2 major conferences and 11 miscellaneous activities including televised and radio-broadcast events.
Participation with the Authorities
The importance of maintaining channels of discussion with relevant authorities is a reflection of the urgent need for a better legal environment to support peace-building efforts, especially the ones related to women's rights, minority rights, etc. These changes can be facilitated by a strong partnership between active civil society organizations, community leaders, and motivated authorities. The discussion in Parliament aimed at bringing together these actors, who included policy makers (7 Parliamentarians, a Minister and 7 other Ministry Representatives, and 2 members of local government) and 55 representatives of Civil Society, as well as 2 Donor agencies, 2 Embassies, 4 INGOs representatives, 1 UN agency, and 2 journalists.
Background on the Peace Builders Network
Since 2004, NCCI coordinated numerous peace building activities. In 2004 and 2005 NCCI organized conflict resolution trainings. In 2008 and 2011 NCCI implemented two civic education campaigns on peace-building and reconciliation. In 2006, 2009 and 2012 NCCI organized 3 sizeable conferences on peace-building and reconciliation.
The present NCCI activities aimed to promote the principles of peace-building at the national level via a coordinated and coherent campaign of civic education and peace-building activities carried out by local civil society organizations. NCCI invited a number of its and UNOPS’ partners from across Iraq to participate in this project among whom 44 NGOs were selected based on certain criteria such as the NGO’s mandate, notably broad existent expertise in the peace-building field.
The 44 NGOs agreed upon the necessity of coordinating future peace-building efforts and therefore established a network for the purpose called the “Peace Builders Network” (PBN) to jointly implement a peace building campaign in partnership with NCCI. The project team agreed to form a joint committee with the network to discuss the proposals for the campaign strategy put forward by Network members to be approved for funding. Particular attention was paid to areas heavily affected by violence and the Disputed Territories.
Through the work of the Peace Builders Network, coordination, information sharing and teamwork between key stakeholders at all levels of the peacebuilding process occurred. Horizontally, CSOs and youth activists created a written database of reports on existent peacebuilding work and challenges at an individual province level. They also established shared experiences, a formal enduring forum, and unified vision for the coordination of peacebuilding work across communal and provincial lines used during the program but maintained beyond it for future use. This is evident in structures as elaborate as the 18-province wide, 44 NGO member enduring PB Network structure and as simple as collaborative Facebook groups between activists in different provinces working under unified slogans, established during but also continued after the campaign.
Vertically, the output of community-oriented Civil Society participants moved beyond the local as well to reach key decision makers. A simple example among many was the development of a documentary film by a youth demonstrating a youth group’s perspective on peace building in their area. This was then screened at the parliament linking the youth’s perspective and the parliamentarians. At the completion of the conference present MPs expressed their support not only for the continuation of the peacebuilding efforts, but also their desire for greater personal coordination with CSOs on the subject, indicating the official’s own buy-in to the CSOs work as a result of acquiring clearer presentation of the role of civil society in, and its contribution to, peace-building and national reconciliation.
However this is an effort that must be ever renewed through the perpetuation of innovation in approaches to inclusive peace-building, and an emphasis in coordination of work between CSOs, community and authority leaders through networks like NCCI’s Peace Builders as well as other local and national forums. Without out, the momentum of work like that of the PBN will be lost.
Six months have passed since the first reading of an Iraqi Anti-Trafficking in Persons Draft Law in Iraq. A major parliamentary political rift, deterioration in security, continuation of arbitrary detentions and other worrying events have shaped the life of Iraqis in these six months.
Amid all this, the security forces have managed to arrest several gangs specialized in abducting women and children for the purpose of trafficking in human organs. The gangs are detained, but how are they being prosecuted in court in the absence of an anti-trafficking in persons law that should govern such cases?
On July 12th, 2011 the Iraqi Parliament held a first reading of the draft Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law. Shortly thereafter, a second reading followed. Some civil society organizations were motivated to participate in pushing forward the Law. Yet, it is still a draft.
One argument could be that more important issues are currently at stake, most notably the political crisis and the increase in violence. However despite the chaotic atmosphere, human rights laws, especially those that provide more protection to women and children by imposing severe punishments to deter the perpetrators should not be neglected.
Iraq’s Penal Code No. 111 of 1969 included trafficking in women and children as well as the White Slave Trade (the interstate transport of women for “immoral purposes”)[i] as crimes punished by the law (Article No. 13)[ii]. The fines imposed on such crimes were increased by Law No. 6 of 2010, given the substantial inflation of the Iraqi Dinar in the interim, to ensure these fines play a genuine deterrent role. Yet in the absence of a specialized law to enable the prosecutors to define the crime as trafficking in persons, perpetrators might not receive the necessary punishments.
On January 15th, 2012 al-Sumaria News quoted the spokesperson of Baghdad Operations as confirming “the arrest of a gang engaged in armed robbery that also abducts children east of Baghdad”. The news agency stated that “the kidnapping of children has become a phenomenon in many Iraqi governorates, where children are used by the gangs in many illegal ways, including trafficking in human organs.” Earlier in June 2011, the Anti-Terrorism Unit also announced the arrest of a gang made up of 34 persons specialized in abducting women and children for the purpose of trafficking in human organs. In between, the security forces managed to arrest several additional gangs and individuals who have made the abduction of women and children a profitable business. Despite the presence of some relevant articles in the Penal Code as mentioned above, no reports were issued on the trial of these gangs. Again, in the absence of an Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law, on what basis can such defendants be prosecuted in the court room?
Several Arab countries have already joined the fight against trafficking by issuing relevant laws with sever punishments and high fines. Those who didn’t were called on by the Second Doha Forum on Combating Human Trafficking, held in Qatar on January 16th and 17th, to issue anti-trafficking in persons laws since this crime has become a phenomenon in the region, where the most vulnerable such as women and children are the victims.
One expert from the Arab League speaking before the Forum said that trafficking in persons is interlinked with many other crimes, but statistics are lacking on the number of victims. Indeed, the number of victims worldwide is only an estimation, even by the most specialized agencies. Few statistics are available because this is a clandestine industry, where victims end up too traumatized and stigmatized to let anyone learn about the events they’ve experienced, not to mention those who end up dead.
The Human Trafficking Case Law Database of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime website, shows the number of cases in Iraq as zero[iii]. However this doesn’t mean that there is no trafficking in persons in Iraq, rather that no criminals were prosecuted as traffickers for the lack of legal grounds to prosecute them as such.
For any country to effectively combat trafficking in persons, a solid legal framework is a prerequisite. The participation of civil society is generated by the type of services they usually provide to the victims, including providing shelter, medical and psychosocial support, integration and/or repatriation assistance. However such Civil Society participation as well as prevention, protection and prosecution,[iv] by the state and others are made nearly impossible without the necessary legal framework.
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 present to give readers an insight into challenges, successes, and initiatives, and it includes interviews with:
Program Manager - Heartland Alliance, Iraq
Country Director - International Rescue Committee, Iraq
Program Manager - Nature Iraq
1) How did NCCI support and prepare its members for the withdrawal of U.S. troops?
Program Manager - Heartland Alliance, Iraq: …I know that [the current Executive Coordinator] assisted me when I was with MCC with the design and dissemination of a questionnaire to local NGOs on their needs upon the withdrawal of the US troops. And he traveled to Washington DC to talk to US legislators about NGO needs. I have not yet seen the final documents from that effort.
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): The general perception among NGOs community was no huge change in the security and political situation happen and result a huge change in the humanitarian situation in term of improvement or deterioration that need special response. However, the security situation was affected by the withdraw and NCCI the security coordination was strengthened by the creation of the security working group.
2) How was coordination, advocacy, and information sharing affected by the withdrawal?
Country Director - International Rescue Committee, Iraq: These may have become a little more challenging as the security situation has deteriorated since withdrawal, however, not substantially.
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): As the security situation was became more tense after the withdrawal, coordination (including info sharing) and advocacy was more difficult than before. Access to the international zone (also known as the green zone) became more difficult after the withdrawal and UN coordination was based inside the IZ. More efforts were needed to maintain coordination mechanisms.
3) What is the biggest challenge facing NCCI’s network today and how can it be overcome?
Program Manager - Heartland Alliance, Iraq: Capacity building for smaller NGOs in terms of administration, paperwork, grant writing and program management is a big need. The money is harder to come by now that the US and other governments have reduced funding to Iraq. It seems time that NGOs could work together more effectively.
Also, at a recent membership meeting, I felt that folks were attending for their own benefit, rather than for the good of a network body. This could also be addressed with capacity building.
[Additionally], in the KRG we need the NGO registration forms in English and some help completing them. I believe they are not available yet. I would also like to be better linked to the NGO coordinating body in the KRG government. I intend to ask [the NCCI Erbil office] to assist Heartland with that.
I wonder if NGOs in the KRG region should have a more sustainable coordination mechanism with local NCCI field officers. Like monthly meetings on various topics in each governorate.
Program Manager - Nature Iraq: Broadening NGO involvement in the network and advocating for NGOs rights with the Iraqi government.
4) How does Iraq’s coordination setting differ in the KRG and the centrally controlled governorates? And how does NCCI’s strategy differ in the two regions?
Country Director - International Rescue Committee, Iraq: Coordination is somewhat easier in KRG because movement is easier. However, there is some challenge because INGO offices are split between [Sulymaniyah] and [Erbil].
Program Manager - Nature Iraq: …Things seem to be simply easier to do/accomplish in the KRG
5) NCCI’s Executive Coordinator recently relocated from Amman to Baghdad. What are the advantages and disadvantages (if any) to NCCI’s members and Iraqi NNGOs as a whole?
Program Manager - Heartland Alliance, Iraq: Even better, the Exec Coordinator is an Iraqi. Unfortunately, the work load to cover the entire country for this one person is immense whether in Amman or Baghdad. Is there some way that those duties could be spread across more staff - Empowering them to do more[?] It might be beneficial to have a KRG Director?
Country Director - International Rescue Committee, Iraq: The advantages are that is it much easier to access the EC and the EC has greater access to partner NGOs.
Program Manager - Nature Iraq: If you are asking about the advantages and disadvantages to this move, I think it is better for NNGOs but may make things somewhat more difficult for coordinating with international organizations and agencies that work out of Amman and not Baghdad.
Executive Coordinator (2012-present): I believe re-locating the EC to Baghdad is an important step towards strengthening the field coordination since the majority of humanitarian actors were re-located to Iraq. However, re-locating the NCCI EC to Baghdad should be combined with strengthening NCCI’s presence in the northern and southern parts of the country, as not all the major actors are based in Baghdad, as was the case with Amman.
6) What has been the general response of the Iraqi public (excluding NGOs) to NCCI’s presence?
Program Manager - Nature Iraq: I can only talk from the perspective of the KRG and I don't think that the general public is very much aware of NCCI (but I'm not a Kurdish speaker and can't be sure of this). But is that a stated goal of NCCI? Its clients are NGOs, not specifically the Iraqi public. I do think that NCCI is helping NNGOs to become more professional so that these groups will interact with the Iraqi public in a professional and positive way.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis live in ‘Informal Housing,’ the residential settlements in violation of city planning and official property rights, popularly referred to as ‘slums.’ Informal settlements suffer from sub-standard housing. In addition they are deprived of a wide range of services tied to legal residency: schooling, sewage disposal, electricity, water. The problem of informal housing overlaps with the greater housing crisis in Iraq. The latter represents a looming deficit of approximately 1.5 million housing units in Iraq and rising. It also overlaps with the question of IDPs, but is in no way synonymous with either. Clearing up a number of persistent myths about the reasons for the migration of informal settlers (for example, acknowledging the prioritization of job-seeking over house-seeking) and obstacles to building appropriate legal housing (such as zoning of unused land rather than lack of land), is a critical first step to the creation of durable solutions.
Myth 1: There Isn’t Enough Land
Reality: Zoning is a Key Block
Land supply is central to any discussion of either the question of informal housing, and/or the housing shortage in Iraq. It is often said that there simply is not enough land to allow for the building of sufficient quantities of new housing. In fact, in both urban and rural areas of Iraq there are considerable amounts of land that lie unused. The employ of this land for housing is often blocked not by the population density or high prices, but rather by zoning.
In rural areas sometimes more land is zoned for agriculture than water can make arable. In urban areas, vast quantities are zoned as army and government property but not used for any purpose. Given this fact, it should not be surprising that the overwhelming majority of informal housing in urban areas of Iraq takes place on unused government property. For example, in Baghdad, the city-province accounting for 1/3 of all informal housing in Iraq (125 of 380 settlements or some 483,148 persons), 53% of the land upon which informal housing is built belongs to the Ministry of Finance, 26% to the Ministry of Defense, 7% to the Baghdad Municipality, 4% to the Ministry of Labor and Society Affairs, and 2% respectively to each of the Ministries of Agriculture, Transportation, and Education.
Myth 2: Persons Living in Informal Housing are Largely IDPs
Reality: Often Settlers are Job Seekers
Informal Housing is by no means synonymous with the question of IDPs, (‘internally displaced persons’ i.e. persons forcibly obliged to flee their places of origin within a country). After 2003, the weak rule of law facilitated rural-urban migration and internal displacement to informal occupation of land. Especially since the abatement of the civil war however, economic migration has overwhelmingly taken precedence. Door to door surveys of populations living in the informal housing confirms this. Door-to-door surveys of informal housing settlements of the province home to nearly 1/3 of all informal housing in Iraq, show that only around 5-10% of the populations of informal housing are actually IDPs. The requirements and priorities of the two populations differ considerably making generalization dangerous.
Myth 3: Housing is the First Priority of Persons Deciding to Move to Informal Settlements
Reality: Jobs are Usually Settlers’ First Priority
Employment, not housing, is the first priority of most informal settlers. After employment follows services. This goes a long way to explaining why, despite the fact that much of informal housing is sub-standard, and the vast majority totally unlinked from government services such as water, sewage and schools, surveys suggest that 68% of informal settlers across Iraq and 80% in Baghdad, say they do not want to be returned to their places of origin.
How informal settlers prioritize their own needs has important consequences on what solutions may actually work. Status quo proposed solutions are founded on the principle of forced eviction, more recently eviction accompanied by compensation with land in informal settlers’ provinces of origin. Such proposals work on the logic that housing is the primary need and desire of the informal settlers. However as the examples of such plans in other parts of the Middle East and the world have indicated, when the primary need of settlers is employment rather than housing, then the informal settlers tend to leave their new housing plots, and return to where the work is (their previous location/city of informal settlement) after eviction therefrom. Thus the process of eviction, even when accompanied by land compensation in a province of origin, may merely serves to create more informal settlements in the same or nearby areas rather than a durable solution.
Myth 4: The Cheapest and Easiest Solution is Eviction
Reality: Eviction is Extremely Costly, if not Logistically Improbable
The status quo view of many concerned politicians, such as the current Minister of Housing, is that mandatory eviction is the only genuine solution. They say that the involvement of residents in discussions of the conditions of their housing or any concessions thereto (providing services, or formalizing informal settlements) will only encourage further violations of the law. Given their view that concessions and discussion with residents encourages further violation, they consequently link concessions and discussion with the extension of the problem.
A number of experts in the field and some other members of government working closely with informal housing populations see eviction not only as a reprehensible way of dealing with some of the weakest layers of society, given economic and social desire to stay as revealed by surveys, but also as so logistically problematic as to be a moot point. On the logistical level, the eviction of tens of thousands of persons from a single settlement is no small task. They point out that the political and physical ability of such settlers to resist eviction should not be underestimated. In the words of one legal advisor working on the question in Mosul, “after a simple calculation of the logistics of evicting the residents from the various informal settlements in the city in question, the local police chief estimated that such an eviction would require the devotion of the manpower of his entire force for a period of years to complete, a clearly impossible prospect.” This is one reason why not one of the three Iraqi laws passed since 2003 on informal housing, all of which mandate the eviction of violators, has practically been implemented.
Myth 5: The Government Alone Can Fill the Housing Deficit
Reality: Incentives to Move the Private Sector to Do More are Needed
Traditionally housing in Iraq has often been delivered via a centralized process, in some cases it had been directed to the people or groups that the previous regime wanted to favor. Today the housing unit deficit is such that that the state does not have the capacity to deliver housing to meet the scale of Iraq’s needs. There is already a deficit of approximately 1.5 million housing units in Iraq. Accounting for population growth in the next 5 years, this is predicted to increase to a need for 2 million houses in Iraq. Yet reconstruction Minister Mohammed al-Daraji recently said that there is only enough in the public budget to build 3,000 annually. Therefore a clear strategy which also includes facilitation of private sector work is required.
Solutions: Traditional and Alternative
There is no single comprehensive solution for all informal housing settlements in Iraq. However taking into consideration the above points on the nature of and reason for the settlements can help point out the strengths and weaknesses of some proposed solutions.
Eviction with Compensation
The above-noted decisions taken by the Iraqi Parliament on Informal Housing (No. 154 of 2011, No. 440 of 2008, and No. 157 of 2009), seek to make forcible eviction more equitable by mandating compensation in the form of land plots in the evicted settlers’ provinces of origin. However the main reason people move to the slums is not for the purposes of finding housing, but rather for the purposes of economic opportunity or security. This is why most, do not actually want to return to their places of origin. Therefore some experts and members of government closely working with informal settler groups have noted that this policy is more likely to encourage the resale of compensation land (located in the job-less area from whence the settler originally fled), return to and recreation of the slums again in a new area of the same city from which the settler was evicted.This is particularly true if eviction is done without consultation with the residents of the informal settlements.
Upgrading rather than Uprooting
In a number of international development circles there has been much excitement surrounding the concept of “Upgrading” rather than “Uprooting” of informal settlements as an alternative to the tradition eviction/eviction with compensation formula. The example of the upgrading of East Wahdat in neighboring Jordan, which won a number of international awards, among them the prestigious Agha Khan Award for socially conscious architecture, is one example. The East Wahdat settlement began as a camp receiving Palestinian refugees and quickly developed into slum style semi-permanent housing with no connection to government services. Once the government took the political decision to allow for a change in status of the settlement to a more permanent one, it provided deeds for the land upon which settlers had previously been living in an illegal manner. The government also agreed to provide services (a basic clinic and school). Inhabitants agreed to participate strongly in the financing over a period of time of the upgrade of their own houses. Moreover upgrading of housing units was done one by one, with the inhabitants staying in a corner of their previous plot while building went on, negating the need for a large, or indeed any, temporary re-housing while upgrading was undertaken.
Promoting upgrading, Prof. Hong of MIT University has indicated solutions to land rights problems don’t need to be seen as a zero-sum game between owners and violators/informal settlers. Even where property owners are private individuals, building up may provide solutions with reconfiguration of land use to make part residential, and part commercial.
Opponents of such plans fear encouraging more violations. In some cases, like the Zahraa informal settlement in Kut, the number of informal settlers families increased when the local government decided to compensate them with a piece of land in the same governorate, although proponents claim this is the exception, not the rule. An equally or more valid question is the vast amount of effort required to negotiate such land reallocation settlement by settlement. Likewise clearly not all informal settlements (for example those not zoned for residential building for safety reasons) can be upgraded. Others have indicated that in Iraq many would oppose “building up” on the basis of cultural preference for low-rise residential housing.
Incentives to the Private Housing Sector: Zoning, Expandable Homes and Loans
To encourage the private sector to take a more vigorous role, incentives might include, but are not limited to encouraging more housing loans, as now they are extremely difficult to acquire. Secondly, where housing is heavily subsidized it can be given in the form of a unit with room for privately financed expansion over time. This encourages buy-in by the new owners, and decreases upfront cost to the government. Finally the authorities can work on changing of zoning laws to allow greater access to develop property in desirable areas. The fact that such a high quantity of informal settlement in Iraq takes place on government property is seen by some as a positive factor. In theory, this should make reaching a compromise solution easier, since it would not be the government negotiating with a private investor and informal settlers, but rather directly with the informal settlers themselves. Even where government property cannot be ‘sold’ for legal reasons, it could be for example leased for a decade or two etc. with some re-zoning. Zoning and loans alone cannot make the private sector provide all the housing needed. The changes required to deal with the greater question of the needs of the housing market in general require a discussion all of their own. However zoning and loans are two critical elements of freeing the private sector’s hand to do more in the field of providing housing which extensively cross-cut with the question of solutions to informal housing.
A Role for Civil Society
Cost of land and construction, as well as the massive number of units required in a site like Iraq has traditionally been seen as being nearly entirely prohibitive to Civil Society work in the housing sector. In fact to the contrary, NGOs can play a critical role in terms of organizing and expressing the voice of informal settlement communities, which the state may have weak capacity at accessing. Bringing hard data on the actual needs and numbers of persons in such settlements is critical to providing durable solutions. The state is not prohibited from carrying out door-to-door surveys. The intrepid efforts of some politicians in this respect, such as Baghdad Provincial Council Member Mahdiya abed Hassan have been noted in the effort to muddle through community by community solutions to day to day problems of these citizen, thus building the connections and trust to do surveying as well. But such outstanding work is the exception not the rule, and as Ms. Hassan’s own example shows, carried out after-hours and through personal will. In more cases the state may face a lack of trust from settlers to provide valid data when asked to work with any arm of the law given the settlers’ fragile status on the fringe of legality. Second, Civil Society groups, NGOs can fill a critical gap in both in raising awareness about and advocating for the societal benefits of needed legal changes. In both cases Civil Society can play an active role in facilitating and encouraging government and private sector efforts in the complication question of providing durable solutions to the ongoing informal housing problem in Iraq.
Based on the paper “National Funds to Support Civil Society Organizations” published by The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) in July 2010, partnership between the Government and civil society organizations is the key to achieve common goals for the betterment of their country. Governmental Funds or Foundations in several countries are looked at not only as a source of money from the government but as institutions with which civil society organizations (CSOs) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) can partner as the latter are consulted upon the establishment of the former.
In Iraq however, this partnership requires strengthening. Neither NGOs nor civil society organizations were mentioned in the Federal General Budget Law of 2012, recently endorsed by the Iraqi Government, although some are currently receiving financial support from the government, for example via the Ministry of Education. The Budget, amounting to 100 Billion USD, included an upgrade to social benefits including granting loans to Iraqis for purposes of housing and to farmers to activate the agricultural sector. But there was no mentioning of specific financial support to CSOs or NGOS.
Decrease in International Funding
The peak of donor funding for humanitarian assistance in Iraq reached $3.4 billion in 2003. By contrast only 9% of that yearly funding (316 million dollars) was allotted for 2008 signaling an overall drop in funding for humanitarian efforts in Iraq. Moreover every year since then the same pattern of steady funding drops has continued across funding fields in Iraq (with yearly funding at 3% of the 2003 high in 2011) except for funding for ‘Civil Society’ work for which some large-scale grants have been set aside by donors such as the European Union for the coming year.
Furthermore there are concerns about the commitment of the members of the former Multi-National Forces in Iraq (MNF-I) to continue their humanitarian funding following the completion of the withdrawal of all foreign forces which occurred at the end of 2011. The United States has put forward a funding opportunity via a USAID grant amounting to up to $75 million for Civil Society projects over a period of three years starting in 2012. However it reserves the right to fund any or none of the application submitted, therefore the precise amount of funding to be distributed is as yet not fully defined.
Iraq remains a violent and unstable operating context. This reduces access on the ground. Millions (an estimated 1.5 million since 2003 - UNHCR Iraq Operation Monthly Statistical Update on Return: November 2011) of Iraqis are still displaced, and humanitarian issues related to health, education, sanitation and security remain throughout Iraq.
While Iraq retains the status as having the 3rd largest reserves of Oil in the Middle East, oil exploitation is currently stunted by insecurity, corruption, a lack of investment, poor technology, and a number of other factors. Meanwhile, an estimated 7 million Iraqis (out of a total population of 30 million) live on less than $2 USD a day.
The Law of NGOs in Iraq – Funding Methods
According to the NGOs Law No. 12 of 2010, Article (13): NGOs' resources consist of: first, members' fees and dues; second, internal or external donations, grants, bequests and gifts; and third, the revenues from their activities and projects. This remains the case despite a growing debate around the issue with many NGOs calling on the government to allocate funds to support and sustain civil society organizations in Iraq.
In the KRG, up until a short while ago, the situation was different where under The Law of Non-Governmental Organizations in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region of 2011, Article 13 Section 4 states the Organization may obtain income from “The Organization's share of any allocation in the Region’s annual budget, and any other grants or assistance provided by the Government in support of the Organizations’ projects.” But mid-2011 this aid ceased. A new law is currently underway with an expected limitation of funding only to NGOs that can present credible project proposals to the KRG Government.
In Basra a draft local legislation was recently set to allocate small loans to mitigate the unemployment issue. Currently NCCI and a number of local NGOs in Basra are lobbying to ensure that national NGOs have access to such loans, despite the calls from a number of NGOs to stress the notion that “NGOs are in need of grants not loans”. The lobbying in Basra has started; more will be stated at a later stage about the results.
The ICNL Paper states that “the key reason to provide institutional support is to invest in the development of CSOs that can become effective partners to the government in implementing its policies… Providing project-based support has advantages as well. Project based support can yield specific results in areas in which the government wants to achieve impact, at the same time strengthening CSO experience and ability to deliver services in that area.”
Most of the debate about governmental grants to NGOs in Iraq centers on how humanitarian needs and developmental priorities can be served without imposing any control on the space of NGOs’ work.
Role of the Private Sector
On March 13th 2012, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Shell Iraq signed an agreement to implement a range of development projects in Southern Iraq. The four year partnership aims to increase the number of local area development activities, promote local small and medium enterprises and provide vocational training to respond to the private sector needs.
This partnership is part of UNDP support for the local network of the Global Compact, which was launched in Iraq in October last year to promote responsible business practices in the areas of human rights, labor standards, environment and anti-corruption. The Global Compact, and these types of partnerships, also provide a useful framework for international oil companies who are operating in Iraq to meet their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) obligations.
During an NCCI Open Space Meeting in Erbil, held on Feb 2012, some of the local NGOs called for lobbying to include articles within the Iraqi investment laws by which investors need to allocate certain funds to assist LNGOs.
Examples from other countries show a certain level of success upon applying such methods. In Vietnam, many Vietnamese, particularly those from the center of the country, gauge their success based on the prosperity of the community in which they reside. One way in which Canadian firms have helped enrich the community around them and improve their reputation has been by meeting with local non-governmental leaders and seeking to understand what the people of the community need, what their personal ambitions are, and what they want for their descendants. With this information, Canadian firms have been able to ensure that their company’s project contributes to the ambitions of the local community.
A Critical Moment in Defining the Legal Framework of Civil Liberties in Iraq:
In the past two years, new drafts of five key pieces of legislation have been proposed that will define some of the most fundamental frameworks protecting civil liberties in Iraq. Problematically, each of these laws contains a substantial number of clauses that are inconsistent with Iraq’s Constitution and obligations under international agreements to which it is signatory. As a result the capacity of these laws to protect the freedoms they are designed to uphold is weakened.
The Law for the Protection of Journalists, while containing some positive improvements in the field of journalists’ rights, was passed with controversy regarding many other articles, in August 2011. The Commission of Media and Communication Law, the Informatics Crimes Law regarding internet use, and Political Parties Law are still draft laws with notable loopholes requiring revision. The Draft Law on Freedom of Expression, Assembly and Peaceful Protest is a fourth excellent case of a key law on civil liberties whose gaps, being still in draft form, currently present a window of opportunity for amendment before passing into law.
Constitutional and International Legal Obligations:
Iraq is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 (ICCPR). Article 19.2 of the ICCPR entitles “everyone the freedom of expression” including “the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” The text further specifies that any restriction on this right, the “freedom of peacefully assembly” (Article 21) or “freedom of association” (Article 22.1), must be strictly necessary to preserve the interests of “national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals” (Articles 19.3.B, 21, 22) or in the case of association and assembly “the protection of the rights and freedoms of others” (Article 21, 22.2).[i]
Likewise, the Iraqi Constitution enshrines the freedom to “assembly and peacefully protest”, and “freedom of expression”, including “freedom of the press, printing, declaration, media and publishing”, unless threatening the “public order and morality” (Article 38).[ii]
The Draft Law on Freedom of Expression, Assembly and Peaceful Protest: Articles
Almost every article of the Draft Law on Freedom of Expression, Assembly and Peaceful Protest suffers from either excessive vagueness, dangerous ellipsis of or direct contradiction to the principles outlined in Iraqi’s Constitution or the ICCPR which would open the door to the abuse of civil liberties in Iraq. As such, the draft legislation bears serious reconsideration.
The draft first limits the rights which it is intended to protect by defining “freedom of expression” and the “right to information” each as the right “of the citizen” only, without mention of the rights of any other categories of persons (Articles 1.1, 1.2). The rights of non-nationals to express their opinion, seek information from the Iraqi state, or engage in gatherings in Iraq are therefore entirely unprotected in this draft.
According to the draft, the only legal “public gathering” is a licensed (Article 7) demonstration (Article 1.5), after 7am and before 10pm (Articles 8.3 and 10.2), which may not be carried out in a public street (Article 8.2). These geographic and temporal limitations prima facie exclude the rights to engage in a strike or sit-in despite the fact that these activities neither threaten the public order nor morality, in and of themselves. Therefore their prima facie exclusion is in contradiction to the constitution. Rather than being elided and their component parts banned, they should be specifically mentioned in the definition of a legal ‘public gathering’ in Article 1 and not contradicted in following articles elaborating thereupon. Article 7.1 specifies that a public gathering must acquire the approval of “the head of the relevant security unit five days before its occurrence”. The application includes the names of “the committee of no less than three people” who are made personally responsible (Article 7.2) for the organization of the gathering, and its adherence to its stated purpose, timing, and location, which are likewise required in the application (Article 7.1). The ‘relevant security unit’ is left undefined and therefore open to opportunistic arbitrary implementation. Likewise demanding a license for all public gatherings places an unnecessary burden on the right to assemble. So too does making its organizers personally responsible for any changes in program. An announcement of the intention to hold a public assembly should be sufficient for security authorities to maintain the public order and morals.
The ability to access information and carry out research, like the right to publish its results, are fundamental pre-requisites to the full exercise of freedom of expression. Article 3.1 takes the important step of discussing “the foundation of an open database of information for the masses” by “the ministries and departments not tied to ministries”. However the formulation of the article must be binding rather than discretionary to have any practical utility. Likewise it would be strengthened by explicit reference to “all institutions of the state” and the specification of the authorities to be held responsible if this does not occur. Article 3.3 allows an appeal regarding the denial of information only through the High Commission of Human Rights. Even disregarding some activists’ doubts of the neutrality of that particular Commission at the current time, providing for a means of judicial (rather than purely administrative) appeal is essential to sufficiently protect a right of this importance. This could be done by allowing an appeal directly through the judicial system in addition or requiring the Commission to respond within a defined period of time (such as three days) and allowing a judicial appeal to the decision of the Commission through the courts in the case of a negative answer. Article 4 rightly protects the right to engage in experiments for the purpose of scientific research and publish the results of this research. However the right to research and publish research is thus limited exclusively to the hard sciences, with no mention of and therefore no protection for research or publication in the humanities or social sciences which are equally integral fields of expression and therefore represents a major gap in the legislation.
Opportunities for Dialogue and Amendment:
Elements of existent Iraqi law, dating from the Ba’athist administration (such as the Penal Code of 1969), the Coalition Provisional Authority (such as Order No. 14 of 2003) and the current administration (such as the Journalists Protection Law of 2011) all bear re-assessment in the interest of fulfilling the duties outlined by the Constitution regarding the guarantees of Civil Liberties in Iraq. However laws such as that on Assembly discussed above, being still in draft form, represent a unique opportunity for lawmakers to enter into the already ongoing dialogue between civil society, academics, and members of the legal system (such as a three-day workshop on the law held by the Iraqi al-Amal organization in Erbil in mid-June 2012 or the seminar held by at Sawa Organization for Human Rights and in cooperation with the Forum of NGOs in the province of Muthana on the 18th of February 2012, to name a few) to engage in reform of the legislation before it negatively affects the legal framework.
The following analysis is part of a series of recent published reviews of individual draft laws on civil liberties in Iraq undertaken by NCCI (links below[i]). A comprehensive long-form report on the interlinking security and legal mechanisms of deteriorating civil liberties in Iraq, with a focus on Freedom of Expression, will be released in the coming month.
A Critical Moment
In the past two years, five new pieces of problematic legislation have been proposed that regard civil liberties, and most notably restrict freedom of expression. These laws will define some of the most fundamental frameworks protecting civil liberties in Iraq.[ii] Yet they reference and entrench weaknesses of pre-existent illiberal legislation dating from the Ba’athist administration (such as the Penal Code of 1969), and the Coalition Provisional Authority (such as Order No. 14 and No. 18 of 2003). They also suffer from new and different clauses that are inconsistent with Iraq’s constitutional and international legal obligations. One, the Journalists’ Rights Law of 2011, has already been passed. Iraq’s Informatics (i.e. Information Technology) Crimes Draft Law regarding internet use is perhaps the weakest of all five. It is also of particular concern given that it should stand for a vote by the Iraqi Parliament in mid-2012.
Obligations under the Constitution and ICCPR
The Iraqi Constitution enshrines the freedom of “assembly and peacefully protest”, and the “freedom of expression”, including “freedom of the press, printing, advertisement, media and publication”, unless threatening the “public order and morality” (Article 38).[iii] Likewise, Iraq is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 (ICCPR). Article 19.2 of the ICCPR entitles “everyone the freedom of expression” including “the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” The text further specifies that any restriction on this right, the “freedom of peacefully assembly” (Article 21) or “freedom of association” (Article 22.1), must be strictly necessary to preserve the interests of “national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals” (Articles 19.3.B, 21, 22) or in the case of association and assembly “the protection of the rights and freedoms of others” (Article 21, 22.2).[iv]
In order to comply with these legal obligations, new legislation by the Iraqi legislature should clearly demonstrate that limitations on freedoms are in the defense of the public against a serious, likely and imminent danger to public safety. Anything less constitutes a disproportionate limitation of and/or sanction upon the freedoms guaranteed by Iraq’s Constitution and legal obligations under international agreements to which it is signatory.
Iraq’s Informatics Crimes Draft Law: Review of Articles
Iraq’s Informatics Crimes Draft Law regarding internet providers and users passed reading by the Council of Ministers in 2011. It now awaits only reading and vote in the Parliament to become binding legislation.
Overly broad definition of defamation threatens basic valid and necessary criticism of policy makers and policy. According to the draft law, persons who use the internet “to attribute terms, images, sounds or any other means that include … insult to the others” are subject to imprisonment of up to two years and a fine of 3 – 5 million Iraqi Dinars (Article 22.3). Life imprisonment is the punishment for those who use the internet to “harm the reputation of the country” (Article 6.1). Life imprisonment is also the sanction for “publishing or broadcasting misleading events for the purpose of weakening confidence in the electronic financial system, electronic commercial or financial documents, or similar things, or damaging … financial confidence in the state” (Article 6.3). Defamation should be a civil issue. Even where defamation is a civil tort, the State should be excluded altogether from the entities whose “reputations” may be its object, since the need to criticize the state is such an important corner-stone to a healthy democracy. The way they are currently written, Articles 6.1-3 thus can effectively prohibit any mere discussion, much less criticism, of the economic, financial and administrative systems of the state. Convincing, fact-based, critical discussion by its very nature weakens confidence in the current system, at least in the short run, for the purpose of promoting reform thereof. Likewise Article 22.3 via its over-broad understanding of “insult” could cover for example such innocuous materials as political cartoons of authorities or sardonic articles regarding their actions.
Like the defamation clauses, the definitions of ‘security’ related technology crimes too suffer from excessive scope. This in turn threatens the space for reporting on and critical re-evaluation of state policy in the security field. Any penalization of promotion or discussion of ideas, even regarding national security must be qualified by standards of the seriousness, imminence, and likelihood of the threat they pose to public security on the ground. Many articles in the law do not. “Setting up or managing a website with intent to promote or facilitate the implementation of ideas which are disruptive to public order” (Article 4.1), “publishing information regarding the preparation and implementation of flammable or explosive devices” (Article 4.3) or “publishing information about using mind altering substances (Article 5.2) are all unqualified. The equivalent of Articles 4.1-2 has been used against journalists reporting the incidence of a terrorist attack for example. This legislation would likewise allow legal harassment of a journalist simply reporting on a drug use problem in a particular area should an excuse to penalize a journalistic critic of a politician be desired. Indeed in the draft internet law these overly-vaguely defined acts are not only criminalized but also punishable with extremely harsh sanctions. Punitive sanctions provided for by the law include life imprisonment and between 25 and 50 million Iraqi Dinars (between US$16,000 and US$32,000, more than 10 times the average Iraqi’s income). The penalty is thus grossly disproportionate to the threat.
The internet draft law also lacks other necessary protections for whistleblowers in both the private and public sectors. Articles 7-9 prohibit the interception of financial data, just as Article 19.1.a prohibits the publication of illegally received materials. These articles should be qualified by a clause permitting such publication if in the public interest. One example might be an anonymous email to a journalist regarding the fraudulent but also private banking activities of a public servant. Currently these varieties of ‘crimes’ in the legislation face perpetrators with fines of up to 10 million Iraqi Dinars and 10 years imprisonment. This constitutes a dangerous deterrent to necessary reporting in the public interest.
Meanwhile total access to individuals’ private information by authorities is permitted without any form of due process. For example, “declining to provide information or data to the …administrative authorities” is criminalized, without demanding that authorities provide either a cause or a warrant (Article 18). Article 13 provides similar permissions to “security authorities and bodies responsible for issuing licenses.” This would allow for example, any state authority to demand news media reveal their sources without even providing a reason therefore.
According to Article 29 in a legal court proceeding “the court may decide to confiscate or damage the tools, equipment, software and devices used in the commission of the crimes stipulated in this act”. The article thus denies basic principles of due process by allowing the destruction of evidence before a judgment is passed and/or and the appeal process exhausted.
The law’s provisions mean that many important forms of new media could simply be banned altogether from use in Iraq. Since the law fails to differentiate between users and service providers for example, Youtube or Facebook could conceivably be shut down if one of their users posted once about an unapproved generic drug. Likewise a media outlet can be shut down as a result of a mistake of one blogger, encouraging self-censorship among internet users and administers alike.
The Draft Law on Information Technology Crimes should be revised to clearly demonstrate the principle that burden be always on the State to show that limitations on freedoms are in the defense of the public against a serious, likely and imminent threat. The opportunity for revision exists, as the law awaits final reading in the Parliament in coming weeks. If it is not however, it will become another link in the chain of weak laws with numerous illiberal clauses from the past three administrations of Iraq, viable for use in coming years in the country though incompliant with Iraq’s most basic legal obligations under its current constitution and international obligations.
[i] These analyses are available in Arabic and in English on the NCCI website. See for example: NCCI, “Draft Law on Freedom of Expression and Assembly: Gaps and Opportunities”, 3 July 2012; NCCI, “Towards Accountability or Autocracy? The Political Parties Draft Law, Proposed Changes and Gaps”, 25 October 2011
[ii] The Journalism Law, while containing some positive improvements in the field of journalists’ rights, was passed with controversy regarding many other articles, in August 2011. The Political Parties Law, Commission of Media and Communication Law, Law on Freedom of Expression and Assembly and the Informatics Crimes Law regarding internet use, are still draft laws with notable loopholes requiring revision.
Local and international stakeholders often view Iraqi civil society as a promising platform through which actors may contribute to the country’s sustainable recovery and long-term stability. However, there is a fundamental misunderstanding among many of these stakeholders concerning the capacity of Iraqi civil society, and particularly non-governmental organizations (NGOs), to affect real change.This paper attempts to bridge this knowledge gap by analyzing current Iraqi CSOs in an updated context.