Geneva – Considering the fact that Iraqi authorities have failed for three years to hold the perpetrators of violence against civilian protestors accountable, the UN must form a fact-finding commission to investigate the violations, which occurred during the October 2019 protests, Euro-Med Monitor said in a statement.
In a brief report titled “Perpetrators will not hold themselves accountable”, Euro-Med Monitor states that despite the succession of two governments and the formation of numerous inquiry commissions since the outbreak of the protests, in which approximately 730 Iraqis were killed and over 25,000 others were injured, justice is still far from being achieved. The authorities only compensated the victims financially, and no one has been held criminally accountable for the killing, disappearance, or assault of protesters.
Omar Al-Ajlouni, a legal researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, said: “We cannot rely heavily on the findings of the government inquiry commissions to bring justice to these victims, because some were not formed or operated in accordance with the principles of independence and impartiality, and included representatives of potential perpetrators in their membership—making it unlikely that the perpetrators will be held accountable.
“The inquiry commissions operated for three years but failed to bring justice to the victims, so it is now critical for international bodies to take over the investigation process and ensure its integrity and independence from the constraints and pressures of influential parties in various parts of Iraq”, Al-Ajlouni added.
According to the report, several government inquiry commissions were formed in October 2019 to investigate the violations against protesters right away. The first commission was formed on 12 October 2019 during the tenure of former Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and was led by then-Minister of Planning Nouri al-Dulaimi. The second commission was formed and led by now-outgoing Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on 9 May 2020; days later, a committee was formed to investigate the existence of secret prisons where demonstrators and opponents were being held.
Ten days after its formation, the first inquiry commission published a report confirming the killing of 149 civilians and eight soldiers during six days of demonstrations. The report emphasised that higher authorities had not issued official orders to shoot demonstrators, recommended that several security officials be referred to the judiciary while other leaders be relieved of their positions, and documented that snipers fired live bullets at demonstrators’ upper bodies. Former PM Abdul-Mahdi referred the investigation’s findings to the judiciary at the time.
On 4 October 2020, Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council denied receiving “a file concerning the perpetrators of the murders and kidnappings of the October protesters” and stated it had received only “an administrative investigation file that did not include [the names of] specific defendants” or contain information indicating “the negligence of any party, whether institutional or personal”.
As of the publication of Euro-Med’s report, the results of the second inquiry commission—led by Al-Kadhimi and comprised of five retired judges and several investigators and experts—have not been announced yet; no one involved in the killings or repression of protesters has appeared in court. Speaking on the reasons for this, Iraqi Minister of Interior Othman al-Ghanmi stated in January 2021 that the failure to achieve results is because some of the killings of demonstrators in Baghdad “occurred as a result of definitive personal actions”, and that “because of a now-fixed defect, surveillance cameras did not contribute to [exposing those behind the] protester killings”. He also described accessing the facts as a “complicated matter”.
According to testimonies gathered by the Euro-Med Monitor team, victims, particularly families of the deceased, face delays that appear to be systematic when filing claims about the killing of their family members, and sometimes investigation procedures are halted due to Iraqi security forces’ refusal to cooperate with the competent judicial authorities.
The family of Ameer Saad Jaber, a young man killed on 4 October 2019 near the building which houses the Diwaniyah Governorate Council, spoke to the Euro-Med Monitor team: “We filed a complaint, and an investigation into Ameer’s murder was launched. The file was transferred from Diwaniyah Governorate to Baghdad, and the main suspect in the case was a detachment of the First Iraqi Special Operations Brigade (or Golden Division), which was located above the governorate council building.
“The court requested the names of the detachment soldiers who were present that day, but the Golden Division refused to cooperate, stating, ‘We are a fighting force affiliated with the Prime Minister, and we cannot disclose the names’. The perpetrators of this crime have not been held accountable to date”, added Jaber’s family.
Furthermore, several families of the deceased did not receive promised compensation from the government until two years after their sons were killed, and families were sometimes paid only half of the announced compensation salary. In a testimony to the Euro-Med Monitor team, the family of Ameer al-Kinani, who was killed on 25 October 2019 while participating in the protests, confirmed this. “Ameer’s death was not officially investigated”, they said, “and we only received half of the announced compensation salary two years later”.
The report also stated that some of the injured did not receive compensatory pay, despite being left almost completely unable to move due to injury. “On 5 February 2020, I was shot while participating in the Najaf demonstrations,” protester Kamil Abdul Hussein, 21, told Euro-Med Monitor. “The bullet rendered me quadriplegic, preventing me from leading a normal life. Although I filed an official complaint, the appropriate authorities did not follow up. I was not compensated and no one responsible for my paralysis has been held accountable to date”.
The Euro-Med Monitor report warned that enforced disappearance was one of the most prominent and dangerous forms of violation that accompanied the October 2019 protests, with dozens of people forcibly disappeared as a result of their protest activities. Despite numerous promises to uncover their fate, the authorities have so far failed to do so.
The family of forcibly disappeared activist Sajjad al-Iraqi said in a testimony to the Euro-Med Monitor team: “Sajjad was active in exposing corruption cases through his accounts on social media, and actively participated in the October protests. On 19 September 2020, he was kidnapped by one of the parties known to us, and we informed security authorities of the identity of the potential kidnappers, but [the authorities] did not cooperate. It’s been over two years since Sajjad was kidnapped, and we still don’t know what happened to him.
“We filed complaints with several security and judicial departments, providing them with personal information and even photos of potential kidnappers, but our complaints were ignored. We saw no evidence of their holding the kidnappers accountable or revealing Sajjad’s fate”, the family added.
The report cited several reasons for the failure of the two inquiry commissions investigating the October 2019 protests, most notably a lack of independence and impartiality due to the strong influence of parties whose members are suspected of participating in the killings or repression of protesters. Some members of the first inquiry commission specifically belonged to parties accused of participating in the repression of protests, and these parties’ strong influence in various parts of Iraq significantly impeded the investigations.
Furthermore, both inquiry commissions failed to establish clear communication channels with the families of the deceased, injured, or forcibly disappeared, which would have been needed to ensure that their testimonies were properly documented and followed up on. The lack of stability and the complexity of the political crisis in the country have also hindered the second inquiry commission’s ability to operate freely and independently.
Euro-Med Monitor calls for the formation of an international fact-finding commission to investigate all crimes committed by security forces and armed militias during the October 2019 protests, and for the establishment of a direct and secure channel of communication with victims to allow them to present evidence without fear of information leaking to influential parties. Euro-Med Monitor also calls for the setting of a specific time frame for the accountability process, and for the assurance that all necessary support and facilities will be available to complete the task.
The Iraqi government should cooperate with any independent investigation into violations committed against demonstrators during the protests; make every effort to uncover the fate of those who have been forcibly disappeared, and block any attempt to cover up those who are responsible for enforced disappearances; provide full protection to individuals with information or evidence related to these crimes and handle the information provided confidentially and professionally; facilitate administrative and legal procedures for the victims; allow victims to file judicial complaints, and provide them with access to the entire amount of compensation stipulated by law.
Political parties and forces in Iraq must end political and institutional impunity for those accused of suppressing and killing demonstrators, abstain from using influence to protect or prevent the accused from being held accountable, and refrain from obstructing the work of relevant inquiry commissions or refusing to assist in the apprehension of perpetrators.