Cablegate: Mohr Hosts Four-Day Human Rights Events

Published: Wed 17 Dec 2008 01:34 PM
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1. Summary: The Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR) hosted four
days of events throughout the country to celebrate the 60th
anniversary of the declaration of human rights. The
highlight of the events was the first annual human rights
conference in Baghdad on December 3. The conference focused
on human rights issues facing the ministry, the Parliament's
human rights committee, the KRG, and civil society. The
conference was widely attended and was covered by many media
organizations. UNAMI also held a human rights celebration on
December 7 in Baghdad. The event featured speeches from
Minister of Human Rights Wijdan Salim and SRSG Staffan de
Mistura, a performance by the Iraqi National Symphony, and an
art contest from students from Iraqi art institutes. End
2. In honor of the 60th anniversary of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN
General Assembly December 10, 1948, the Ministry of Human
Rights (MoHR) held a series of events December 1-4. The
highlight was the first annual human rights conference on
December 3. On December 2, the MoHR inaugurated its Human
Rights Institute, which will be located at the Ministry's
headquarters and will hold trainings and workshops on human
rights for NGOs and GOI human rights entities. The Ministry
sponsored sporting events for children around Iraq on
December 1 and provided them with backpacks and jackets with
the MoHR logo. Throughout the four days, TV channels
featured human rights awareness programs and commercials from
the MoHR.
3. PolMinCouns and PolOff attended the MoHR's human rights
conference on December 3 in the Mansour Hotel in Baghdad.
The conference was well attended by GOI officials and human
rights NGO members. Several media outlets covered the event
and aired footage on Iraqi news channels. Minister of Human
Rights Wijdan Salim opened the event with a speech
highlighting the importance of human rights issues in the
country and the GOI's efforts to promote human rights.
4. The most substantive part of the conference was a panel
discussion featuring representatives from the MoHR,
Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, the KRG MoHR, and the
NGO sector. MoHR Director General for Humanitarian Issues
Sa'ad Fathallah discussed the relationship between the
improved security situation and adherence to human rights,
stressing that as the GOI conducts successful security
operations, the human rights situation should improve. He
said the respect for freedoms of expression and press and the
expansion of NGOs has improved. However, he said the rights
of women and children had deteriorated, and sectarianism had
become worse.
5. Judge Zakia Hakki, a member of the Parliament's Human
Rights Committee, spoke about the need to pass legislation
that would enumerate constitutional rights, such as freedom
of press and speech. She said the Human Rights Committee
monitors human rights violations, visits detention
facilities, and investigates terrorist acts. Discussing
establishment of the High Commission of Human Rights, which
was recently passed by parliament, Judge Zakia said the
commission and the MoHR should co-exist since the two bodies
will complement the other's work. The independent commission
will be able to report and monitor on human rights without
bias, and the MoHR can improve human rights from within the
executive branch. She also criticized the Ministry of
Justice for blocking parliamentary committee inspection
visits to detention facilities. Iraq's executive branch
needs to learn how to work with the parliament on human
Qneeds to learn how to work with the parliament on human
rights issues, she noted.
6. The representative from the KRG MoHR read a paper on the
work of the Ministry in the Kurdish region. The Ministry
focuses on monitoring prisons and detention facilities,
monitoring and improving the situation of women and children,
holding conferences and trainings on human rights, supporting
human rights NGOs, and reporting on overall conditions every
three months. The Ministry conducts regular inspections to
most detention facilities in the KRG. It also conducts
training programs on human rights standards for prison
officials and holds workshops on prisoners' rights for the
detainees. The Ministry closely follows the situation of
women and children, particularly violence against women. It
visits orphanages and women's correction facilities and holds
programs and lectures on women's rights around the region.
The Ministry representative cited the weakness of monitoring
authorities such as the Parliament and the media, Islamic
extremism, culture and traditions, and the fact that Iraqi
laws do not meet the standards of international human rights
agreements as the main obstacles limiting the Ministry's
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7. The director of the Iraqi NGO Al-Amal, Hanaa Edwar, spoke
on behalf on the NGO sector. She said security and law and
order were generally better, particularly in Baghdad, which
is encouraging refugees and IDPs to return. Edwar said life
was returning to normal for residents in Basrah and Maysan.
However, she claimed that Iraq is still facing serious
challenges to human rights: there are still mass arrests and
detainees being held too long without charges, kidnappings
for ransom are still common, and child kidnapping has
increased. She said a resurgence of tribal traditions is
negatively affecting the rights of women. Edwar claimed that
70 percent of IDPs are women and children and they suffer
more because they have less employment options.
8. On December 7, the UNAMI Human Rights Office sponsored an
event in honor of the 60th anniversary of the declaration.
The event highlighted the connection between human rights and
Iraqi fine arts. SRSG Staffan de Mistura opened the event by
praising the work of the MoHR and welcoming the new High
Commission of Human Rights. The SRSG said more work needs to
be done on improving detention facilities, reducing honor
killings, helping minorities, and ending impunity for torture
and other abuses. Minister Wijdan highlighted the need for
Iraq to continue its journey to raise human rights awareness
and protect the human rights of all citizens.
9. Following the speeches, the Iraqi National Symphony
Orchestra String Quartet performed "Song without Borders,"
which was composed in honor of the Declaration of Human
Rights and given to the UN. A group of students from two
arts schools in Baghdad presented their human rights-inspired
paintings, which had been hung on the walls of the
auditorium. The SRSG, Minister Wijdan, and the two
professors judged the artwork and gave prizes to the artists
who best expressed their thoughts on human rights.
10. The MoHR conference and the four-day celebration helped
raise the public visibility of the Ministry and raising
public consciousness of the importance of human rights in
Iraq. It was encouraging to see the MoHR successfully
promote its (ambitious) agenda; the media coverage of the
conference and other events will help the Ministry get its
message across. The UNAMI support was also important in
lending weight and credibility to the MoHR events of December
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