Iraq: UK defying UN – returning refused asylum-seekers despite violence
UK among countries defying UN over returning refused asylum-seekers despite violence
Amnesty International has today called on the Iraqi authorities to urgently step up the protection of civilians amid a recent surge of violence in the country.
Groups like religious and ethnic minorities, journalists, women and girls, and men perceived to be gay have particularly been targeted, said Amnesty, as it published a 28-page report – Iraq: civilians under fire – accusing the Iraqi authorities of failing to protect those at risk. Ongoing uncertainty over when a new Iraqi government will be formed has led to a recent spike in attacks, with more than 100 civilian deaths in the first week of April alone.
The report also points out that the UK is among several European countries defying current United Nations guidelines over not returning refused asylum-seekers to extremely dangerous parts of Iraq. For example, in October the UK forcibly removed 44 Iraqis to Baghdad. In the event this led to a reported stand-off with Iraqi soldiers boarding the plane on arrival; 34 of the group were eventually flown back to the UK.
Amnesty International Middle East Director Malcolm Smart said:
“Iraqis are still living in a climate of fear, seven years after the US-led invasion. The Iraqi authorities could do much more to keep them safe, but over and over they are failing to help the most vulnerable in society.
“The continuing uncertainty as to when a new government will be formed following last month’s election could well contribute to a further increase of violent incidents of which civilians are the main victims.
“The uncertainty is threatening to make a bad situation even worse. Both the Iraqi authorities and the international community must act now to prevent more unnecessary deaths.”
Amnesty’s report shows that a disproportionately high number of minority communities – numbering hundreds of thousands – have been forced to flee their homes as a result of ongoing insecurity in Iraq. These include thousands of Christians, as well as members of the Sabean-Mandaean religion, Yazidis and women and girls targeted for “un-Islamic” behaviour. Gay men or those perceived to be gay have also fled. For example Hakim, a 34-year-old man from Najaf, told Amnesty that his partner had been kidnapped and abused by members of the Mahdi Army in October 2008, apparently after their secret relationship was discovered. Following his release, both men received death threats from the Mahdi Army, including a note delivered with three bullets.
Many of those at risk have been killed. For instance dozens of women have been murdered in Basra on “moral” grounds (either by Islamic groups or relatives), while at least 25 men and boys were killed in Baghdad in the first quarter of 2009 because they were perceived to be gay: many were first tortured, and bodies were mutilated after death and dumped in the streets. The perpetrators were reportedly relatives and followers of the Mahdi Army; Muslim clerics have issued frequent public statements condemning homosexuality in Iraq. Meanwhile, at least eight Christians were killed in Mosul in February in apparent sectarian attacks.
Journalism and political activism are also very high-risk pursuits, reports Amnesty. For example, Safa ‘Abd al-Amir al-Khafaji, the head teacher of a girls’ school in Baghdad’s al-Ghadi district, was shot and seriously wounded in November after announcing she would contest the recent elections as an Iraqi Communist Party candidate. Meanwhile, women human rights defenders in northern Iraq have told Amnesty that they’ve been accused of being “unbelievers” and threatened for their work campaigning for women’s rights over marriage and inheritance.
While Iraqi security forces, foreign troops or family members are responsible for some human rights abuses, most killings of civilians have been carried out by armed groups, including al-Qa’ida in Iraq, and Amnesty is urging the authorities to do more to protect those most at risk, including by consulting members of at-risk groups to see how best to protect them.