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Elections an Opportunity to Improve Conditions Across the Country
(Washington, DC) - Political parties and candidates in Iraq's parliamentary elections on March 7, 2010, should promise to uphold human rights, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The election will be a key indicator of whether the country is moving toward greater political stability and respect for human rights and away from the sectarian violence that devastated Iraq after the 2005 election, Human Rights Watch said.
The six-page report, "Iraq's 2010 National Elections: A Human Rights Platform for Candidates," focuses on five key areas of human rights problems: electoral exclusion; abridged freedom of expression; ill-treatment and torture in detention; violence against vulnerable groups; and the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons. Human Rights Watch urged political parties to make the report's specific and feasible recommendations part of their electoral commitments.
"This election gives politicians an opportunity to do something about Iraq's most serious human rights problems," said Joe Stork, Middle East deputy director at Human Rights Watch. "They should speak out for an end to torture and protection for displaced persons, detainees, journalists, minorities, and women."
A recent decision by the Supreme National Commission for Accountability and Justice to disqualify hundreds of candidates illustrated the serious need for politicians to make human rights reform a priority, Human Rights Watch said. The decision excluded candidates, including prominent Sunni and secular-minded Shia politicians, because of alleged links to the Ba'ath Party, without considering each individual case on its merits.
After Iraq's last parliamentary elections in 2005, violence devastated Shia and Sunni Arab communities in central and southern Iraq. While some of the worst violence has subsided, armed groups continue to persecute minorities without punishment, and violence against women and girls continues to plague the country.
The government does not have a workable plan for the return of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who fled to neighboring countries or elsewhere in Iraq because of the violence. Government-run detention facilities have struggled to accommodate thousands of detainees, and serious delays in the judicial review of detention has exacerbated overcrowding. The country remains one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists, who also face harassment and legal action by government officials.
To address these issues, the report recommends that candidates and political parties pledge to:
* Revamp the law creating the Supreme National Commission for Accountability and Justice to ensure that it does not exclude candidates unfairly or arbitrarily;
* Amend Iraqi laws to remove or better define, in line with international freedom of expression standards, vague content-based restrictions such as the prohibition of "incitement of sectarianism;"
* Revise the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code to ensure that the rights of defendants meet international standards, notably by prohibiting the use of coerced confessions and any evidence obtained by torture;
* Publicly condemn violence against civilians, in particular vulnerable groups including women, minorities, and men suspected of homosexual activity. Conduct inquiries into reports of such violence by security forces or militias, and hold accountable those found responsible;
* Develop a national plan to facilitate the voluntary return of internally displaced persons and refugees in safety and dignity.