A trusted electoral process with “free and wide-ranging participation” can steer Iraq towards a “safe and prosperous future”, the country’s UN envoy told the Security Council on Tuesday.
“The way to express one’s voice, to make one’s choice, is at the ballot box. This essential democratic exercise requires every voter, candidate, journalist and activist to play their part”, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), updated the Ambassadors via video-teleconference from Baghdad.
She said that Iraqi’s have spoken “loudly and clearly” in demanding fresh elections, and a failure to hold them would cause “significant, lasting, widespread anger and disillusionment” that could further destabilize the country at a time when “strength and unity are desperately needed”.
UNAMI SRSG briefing the UNSC:— UNAMI (@UNIraq) May 11, 2021
I reiterate my call to all Iraqi stakeholders to uphold the integrity of the electoral process. Political pressure and interference, intimidation, and illicit financial flows are all most harmful to the credibility of elections. #Iraq pic.twitter.com/BZNRZGQUKS
Stressing that elections due in October will remain “Iraqi-owned and Iraqi-led”, the UN envoy reiterated her call to uphold the integrity of the process, warning that “political pressure and interference, intimidation, and illicit financial flows” would jeopardize their credibility.
Accountability for serious crimes and human rights violations, such as targeted killings, abductions and intimidation, remains “very, very limited”, the UNAMI chief said, warning that impunity can only embolden perpetrators and further erode trust in the State.
Despite public statements expressing intent to ensure accountability and establish investigative committees, “there have been few prosecutions for the killing and serious injury to protestors”, she said.
Rising unemployment, years of corruption and failing public services had sparked massive anti-Government protests at the start of October 2019. Yet to date, no information has been made public on the patterns of violent attacks against demonstrators and critics, attributed to so-called unidentified armed actors.
Turning to a curtailment of free expression in the Kurdistan region, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert told the Council that critics risk intimidation, movement restrictions and arbitrary arrest, adding that some were even prosecuted under national security laws.
Meanwhile, as representatives of the federal and Kurdistan regional governments discuss security provisions, progress remains slow on administration and reconstruction.
“The absence of an institutionalized dialogue and implementation mechanism between Baghdad and Erbil, is being negatively felt, fuelling misperceptions and distrust”, the UN official said.
One bright note was the passing of the Yazidi Survivors Law which provides reparations and legal recognition of ISIL’s atrocities against women and girls as crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity.
While progress is being made in combatting remnants of ISIL, “terrorism continues to claim far too many innocent lives”, said Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert.
She described rockets and improvised explosive devices as “a constant in Iraqi life” used by “cynical and callous armed entities” to destabilize the country.
Notwithstanding the Government’s objective of bringing all arms under State control, “we are witnessing the use of new capabilities by non-State actors, with potentially devastating effects”, she said.
Over the past seven months, 16 camps for those internally displaced, have been closed or reclassified.
Often carried out on short notice, the necessary preparations for the safe return of some 50,000 Iraqis to areas of origin had not been made, said the UN envoy.
“When camps are closed before return conditions are appropriate, Iraqis face dire consequences”, she explained pointing to their rejection by local communities, a lack of protection from authorities and even physical attacks against the returnees.
“This is certainly not the path towards recovered and stabilized communities”, said the UNAMI chief.