UN Iraq mission documents lack of accountability for protesters’ killings

Iraqi security forces carry a colleague injured during clashes with protestors at Tahrir Square in Baghdad during a demonstration to demand accountability, May 25, 2021 (Photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP)
Iraqi security forces carry a colleague injured during clashes with protestors at Tahrir Square in Baghdad during a demonstration to demand accountability, May 25, 2021 (Photo: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – The lack of government transparency and ongoing impunity enjoyed by armed militias in Iraq believed to be behind killings of protesters have fueled the ongoing assassinations and abductions, the newest report from the United Nations mission in Iraq suggests.

In its latest human rights report published on Sunday, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) details investigative procedures the Iraqi government has undertaken to hold accountable perpetrators of crimes against the protesters who took the streets in October 2019 over the state’s structural corruption and weakness to resist foreign influence.

The 24-page report, titled, “Accountability for Human Rights Violations and Abuses by Unidentified Armed Elements,” comes as Iraq witnesses a new wave of protests demanding accountability and the end of impunity for the killings of demonstrators and activists.

Despite the government’s promises to investigate violations against protesters and activists, no one has yet been held accountable, according to the UN report.

“UNAMI could not identify any judicial investigations into crimes perpetrated by ‘unidentified armed elements’ against protestors and critics since 1 October 2019 that have culminated in a trial or prosecution,” the report said.

Protesters, civil activists, and international observers have identified the perpetrators as militias believed to be tied to Iran.

The lack of arrests and prosecutions has continued to fuel impunity, the report reasoned, adding the investigations are usually conducted into “low-ranking police forces.”

‘Impact of Impunity’

Since the start of the protests in October 2019 until May 2021, UNAMI recorded 48 attempted targeted killings of protesters and activists, in which at least 32 people were killed and another 21 injured.

The latest victim in the series of killings was Ihab al-Wazni, a prominent civil activist and October protests participant, on May 9. Al-Wazni was gunned down by a silencer in front of his home in the shrine city of Karbala in Iraq’s south.

“The very limited accountability with respect to crimes perpetrated against critics perpetuates an environment enabling their recurrence,” the UNAMI report said.

Abductions are another threat to vocal Iraqis, and 19 people kidnapped by militias remain missing.

“Those targeted are people who were considered (or who are) influential critical voices capable of disrupting the political and civil status quo,” the report said.

The recently renewed protests with banners raising “Where’s my killer?” or “Who killed me?” resulted in the killings of two youths, who had taken to the street to demand the end of impunity in the deaths of their fellow protesters.

Non-transparent Investigations

The government’s accountability missions, undertaken by the cabinets of former Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi and his successor, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, lack transparency that have also played a role in maintaining the violations, according to the UN.

“Although there have been several arrests related to targeted killings, not a single case appears to have moved beyond the investigative phase,” the report said, expressing concerns about the governmental fact-finding committees’ transparency as they lack information on the members, methodology, objective assessments, and did not include civil society members.

UNAMI “could not obtain any information on the outcome of the committee’s activities, despite multiple requests for information,” it said.

At least 487 protestors have been killed and more than 7,000 others have been injured in protest violence since October 2019. The government has ordered families of slain protesters and security forces to be compensated financially, but the UN could find payments to families of only three people out of the 47 killed at protest sites. 

Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly