ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The head of the United Nations expressed serious concern on Friday about 65 deaths and thousands of injuries during protests in Iraq this week and urged dialogue between participants and government officials.
"The Secretary‑General is deeply saddened by the loss of life during the recent protests and appeals to all actors to exercise utmost restraint and refrain from violence," read a statement released by Steven Dujarek, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
He said that "freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are fundamental rights that must be respected," but encouraged dialogue as an immediate step towards "de-escalation," of the present tensions.
Massive demonstrations began in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Tuesday and have spread to several other provinces, with those taking part demanding increased job opportunities, improved public services, and an end to rampant institutional corruption.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also spoke out about the clashes between demonstrators and Iraqi security forces. Katharina Ritz, ICRC's head of delegation in Iraq, stated, "The use of force by security forces must be proportionate to the situation and is an exceptional measure," after reports of riot police and other forces using excessive, often lethal force against protesters which have included multiple reports of the use of live ammunition and stun grenades.
"Firearms and live ammunition must only be used as a last resort, and to protect against an imminent threat to life," she added.
According to international human rights law and policing standards, stun grenades should only ever be used by specially trained officers in particular circumstances that do not include public order policing operations or managing assemblies.
Early Saturday morning, state media announced that an order by Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi had lifted the curfew that had been in effect since Wednesday.
According to the crisis cell office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Iraq, the first four days of protest led to the deaths of 93 individuals from both civilians and security forces, the injury of 3,870 individuals, and the arrest of 567, 355 of whom have been released.
On Thursday, International human rights watchdog Amnesty International sternly rebuked Iraqi security forces’ violent response to demonstrations, saying, “The Iraqi government must immediately order security forces to stop using excessive, including lethal, force against protesters."
Editing by John J. Catherine