PAX joins four Iraqi women to campaign for the right to demonstrate, non-violently and without fear of reprisal, once corona measures are lifted.
In Iraq, people have been demonstrating in the capital Baghdad since last autumn. Non-violent protests against hopeless living conditions and a corrupt and incompetent government. The protesters demand an end to corruption, improved basic services and employment.
The government has frequently reacted with violence. This includes attacks on peaceful protestors and arbitrary arrests and the disappearance of journalists and activists criticizing government policies.
"At first I was proud to see people who rejected injustice and stood up to a repressive government,” says Zahraa, one of the protesters “But the government's reaction and the use of excessive force against the protesters scares me. So many peaceful young protesters and activists have been killed or kidnapped and we don´t know what happened to them. The constant threat has become unbearable."
The right to demonstrate safely
PAX is campaigning in support of these four women in their struggle for their rights. Zahraa, along with Alaa, Yasmin and Rusul have been leading the demonstrations for equal rights for men and women and for a reliable government. During the demonstrations, they provided first aid to injured peace activists.
The demonstrations have stopped due to measures taken to fight the corona virus. These women want to make sure they can return to the street, safely and without fear of violence, when these corona-measure are lifted. Rusul: "At the beginning of the revolution it was fantastic to see people on the street and I really thought we would root out the corruption. But as time went by and the violence they used against us increased, as people were murdered, kidnapped and abused, I knew we had a long way to go before we would achieve justice."
The use of excessive force against the protesters has frightened people. Alaa, “I’ve been glad to see the determination of young demonstrators, but I was afraid of the violence the militias and the special forces used against us. They could kill me, or kidnap me on my way home.”
Letter to UN Special Representative
Together with PAX, Alaa, Yasmin, Rusul and Zahraa have written a letter to Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the United Nations Special Representative in Iraq and the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). Hennis-Plasschaert has some leverage. She reports to the UN Security Council regularly. In her last briefing, she emphasized that Iraqi protesters have paid an unbelievably high price for making their voices heard.
In the letter to Hennis-Plasschaert, PAX and the four Iraqis ask for the following:
- Effective international protection systems. A clear signal to the Iraqi government to respect peaceful dialogue and solidarity with the people of Iraq may save many actors and participants in the continuous struggle for a secure world.
- That Hennis-Plasschaert takes a clear stand to defend Iraqi’s freedom. It is essential to achieving peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights.
- That Hennis-Plasschaert advocates increasing the number of women in the decision-making process, in accordance with UNSCR 1325. It is a vital requirement to challenge stereotypes that limit young girls and women’s aspirations and dreams.
Peaceful demonstrators must be protected at all times. PAX is supporting these women's appeal to UN Special Representative Hennis-Plasschaert to persuade the Iraqi government to take concrete action to protect Iraqi protesters so that they have the freedom to sound their call to justice.