The demands from tens of thousands of Iraqi demonstrators on human rights issues and access to basic services must be urgently addressed by the Government, the top United Nations envoy in the country said today, warning that not doing so would increase volatility in the streets.
Since late December, thousands of demonstrators in Iraq's western provinces have taken to the streets to voice their grievances. While the Government has taken measures to address some of their concerns, the Secretary-General's Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler, stressed that more needs to be done, especially in the area of human rights.
“[Demonstrators] feel unprotected, insecure, and excluded,” Mr. Kobler told the Security Council as he presented the latest report by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the activities of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). “Around the country, we listened to the demonstrators' frustrations. Over time, they spoke more harshly and proposed more radical solutions.”
Mr. Kobler said that since the onset of the demonstrations, UNAMI has sought to advance political dialogue and national reconciliation between the Government and the demonstrators. However, he warned that UNAMI would not remain neutral in the case of violations of human rights.
“We have spoken up against the increasing use of sectarian language. We have advocated the principle of non-violence, including to the demonstrators. We have called upon the Government to exercise utmost restraint,” he said.
“UNAMI urges the Government to respond to those popular demands which can be addressed in the short term, and to do so immediately. Other demands will require more time for a response,” he added.
Mistrust among the various communities of Iraq must also be addressed, Mr. Kobler said, as members of each and every ethnic and social group continue to be the target of terrorist acts. Since November, 1,300 civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks, and more than 3,090 have been wounded. In addition, 591 members of Iraqi security forces have been killed and 1,002 injured as a result of these atrocious acts.
“Terrorists seek to ignite sectarian conflict and turn the clock back on Iraq's nascent stability,” Mr. Kobler said. “I have condemned these acts in the strongest possible terms. I have called on all of Iraq's leaders and religious authorities to rise as one to stop the bleeding.”
Volatility on the streets and ethnic divisions is also reflected at a political level, as coalitions in the Parliament are weakening, Mr. Kobler noted. These challenges, compounded with the potential spillover of violence from the conflict in Syria, threaten Iraq's achievements in the last decade.
Iraq currently hosts nearly 120,000 Syrians, who have fled there seeking safety and humanitarian assistance. Most of them are currently located in the Kurdistan Region, and an average of 800 people enters the country on a daily basis.
Regarding the situation of the Iranian exiles currently residing in Camp Ashraf and Camp Hurriya, Mr. Kobler reiterated the urgency to relocate the residents outside of Iraq, underscoring that this is the only path to ensure their safety.
However, he expressed concern about the residents' boycott of relocation interviews with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as well as the refusal of residents of Camp Ashraf to join the larger group of residents at Camp Hurriya.
“I encourage both the Government of Iraq and the residents to constructively engage with one another to promptly resolve this matter,” he said. “I also appeal to the camp leadership not to prevent residents who wish to leave the camp from doing so; to cooperate with the Iraqi authorities when it comes to medical treatment; and to abstain from aggressive behaviour against the UN monitors.”