Paris – The Francophone Association for Human Rights (AFHD) has received exclusive testimonies from families in Iraq who have had their loved ones forcibly disappeared. Members of the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) have also contacted AFDH about the enforced disappearances of thousands of people.
Dr.Anas Akram Mohammed, member of the board of Commissioners of the IHCHR, told AFDH of the committees’ efforts to uncover the fate of 8,615 people who have been forcibly disappeared since 2017. Results have shown that occasionally people were found in various detention facilities and prisons throughout the country, however many cases remain unanswered. “We are trying our best to increase the trust and cooperation with different security agencies to get information on any complaints the IHCHR has received,” Dr.Anas told AFDH.
AFDH has called for an end to enforced disappearances in Iraq and more immediate measures to be put in place to stop this crime which is illegal under Iraqi and international law. The country has been under severe pressure since the 2003 US-led invasion, takeover of ISIS and other sectarian conflict, leaving Iraq in ruins and its citizens demanding change. Various reports have suggested that civilians, activists and other peaceful dissidents have been abducted by Iraqi forces and other unknown armed militias. They have been held in secret detention centers through the country with no access to their family or lawyers and others have been secretly executed and buried in mass graves, unknown to many families.
In January 2020, AFDH received an exclusive testimony from Iraqi citizen, Jasib Hattab Al Heliji about his missing son, Ali Jasib Hattab Al Heliji. Husband and father of two, Al Heliji was kidnapped on October 8, 2019 by armed militias loyal to the Iraqi government in Maysan province, according to his father. Al Heliji is a human rights lawyer, civil rights activist and member of the defense board of abductees and was actively participating in the country’s ongoing anti-government protests as well as representing demonstrators arrested in the protests.
Almost one year on, Al Heliji’s father told AFDH, “To date, I still have no information regarding my sons’ whereabouts. I am worried about his fate.” Jasib Al Heliji has called upon the lawyers union to demand the authorities to disclose the fate of his son, however no attorney or judicial official has dared take on his case out of fear of retaliation from militia members.
AFDH has also received notice of the kidnapping of Oussama Muthana Abbas, a 22-year-old journalist who was forcibly disappeared on January 3, 2020 after returning from Tahrir Square. He was covering anti-government protests which renewed in the capital, rallying against corruption, poor public services and unemployment. His family told AFDH that he has not been registered in any of the country’s state prisons and his whereabouts remain unknown.
AFDH is apprehensive about the renewed anti-government protests as at least two people have already been killed in Baghdad. These deaths are the first since Iraq’s new Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was sworn into office in May. Scores of people were also injured after officials in plain clothing fired live ammunition towards demonstrators protesting in Tahrir Square. AFDH said in a statement, “There cannot be a repeat of last year’s deadly crackdown. We call upon the Iraqi security forces to stop the use of violence against protesters: including human rights activists, journalists, paramedics, journalists and other persons with disabilities. The excessive use of force against protesters and the arrests and abductions of thousands is a grave violation of international and human rights laws, therefore serious measures must be taken to ensure those are held accountable for these abuses.”
In a petition published by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, thirty human rights organizations as well as AFDH signed and called for the end of enforced disappearances in Iraq. The petition called upon the Iraqi authorities to respond to complaints and release information about mission persons and immediately release those detained without charges in secret prisons. The petition also demanded for the complete deconstruction of armed militias in Iraq operating outside the framework of the Iraqi legal and state structures. Reports have indicated that Iraq has become one of the largest countries with missing persons in the world and enforced disappearances appear to be an ongoing occurrence.
The new Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi demanded that the Ministry of Interior release the whereabouts and information of thousands of civilians who were abducted during the war against ISIS, however authorities have repeatedly failed to release any information about the thousands of missing persons. The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance states that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance,” and “each State Party shall take the necessary measures to ensure that enforced disappearance constitutes an offence under its criminal law.” The new Prime Minister must put an end to this extensive issue of enforced disappearances and ensure that Iraqi authorities undergo an impartial investigation and bring to justice security forces and other third party members and militias involved in this unlawful act and deadly violence.
If someone you know has been forcibly disappeared in Iraq, please file a complaint at the IHCHR’s website’s complaints section here