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Persistent violations




Centering around the two great rivers of the Tigris and Euphrates, Iraq borders Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Syria. Nominally a democracy since the overthrow of the previous Ba’ath regime in 2003, Iraq still suffers from widespread sectarian and political violence, displacement of peoples, instability and political paralysis. The dire security situation severely limits the capacity of the government to protect human rights, with widespread violence, regular acts of terrorism and resurgence of harmful traditional practices such as honour killings and female genital mutilation.


Iraq shares borders with five other countries, Turkey to the north, Iran to the east, Kuwait in the south, Jordan and Syria to the west, and the Persian Gulf to the southeast. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers are the country’s key geographical and historical feature: the ancient name ‘Mesopotamia’ means the land between two rivers. The country is divided administratively into 18 governorates, three of which constitute the Northern region of Kurdistan, which enjoys semi-autonomy[1]. The capital city is Baghdad.


The Iraqi population is around 32.6 million[2], 40.7 per cent of which are younger than 15[3]. The majority of this population is Arab, between 15 and 20 per cent are of Kurdish ethnicity and other ethnic groups make up around 5 per cent[4].

The conflict and sectarian unrest that followed the 2003 invasion of Iraq resulted in the displacement of about 4.6 million Iraqis[5]. 2008 estimates indicated that more than 2 million Iraqis are abroad while about 2.8 million are internally displaced[6]. Displacement reached its maximum in 2005 and 2006, while in recent years there has been an improvement corresponding to that of the country’s security situation.


Iraq is renowned for its rich history as a birthplace of civilisation as it occupies roughly what was once the ancient Mesopotamia. Baghdad was the centre of the Islamic empire and under Abbassid rule was a vibrant centre for scientific and cultural activity until its occupation by the Mongols in 1258. In 1534, it became part of the Ottoman Empire until its capture by the British during World War I. Iraq gained independence in 1932 and a British-installed monarchy came into power thereafter, only to be toppled by a military coup in 1968 led by the Arab nationalist Ba’ath party, which promoted pan-Arab and radical leftist ideas[7].

The Ba’athist take-over made way for Saddam Hussein’s ascent to power in 1979. Saddam Hussein consolidated totalitarian control of the country, excluding and persecuting large proportions of the population, particularly the Shia majority in the South and the Kurds in the North. Saddam’s regime committed vast human rights abuses against opposition and was responsible for mass murder of a number of groups[8].

The U.S-led ousting of President Saddam Hussein in 2003 was followed by years of internal violence that continues to make Iraq volatile and unstable. In June 2009, US troops withdrew from key cities and the election of President Barack Obama meant that a gradual withdrawal was to be completed by end of August 2010. The last US troops in fact left Iraq at the end of 2011[9].

Politics and Governance

The first elections as a parliamentary democracy in more than 50 years took place in 2005, making way for the “government of national unity” to take power in May 2006[10]. A new constitution was approved by public referendum in 2005, and came into force following the initial parliamentary elections[11]. The second round of parliamentary elections was held in March 2010, though it was followed by a prolonged period of political stalemate and unrest until a new coalition government was finally formed in November of that year[12].


Iraq is an oil-rich country. In 1979, petroleum made up 95 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings[13]. The oil industry was completely nationalised in the 1970s, which greatly increased state income and led to the creation of a “highly developed public welfare system”[14].

However, the Iraq-Iran war, the 1991 Gulf War and the 13 year of international economic sanctions that followed that war, left the national economy devastated.

The 2003 invasion and the subsequent internal violence further damaged the economy and the deteriorating security situation after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime also caused severe deterioration in the socio-economic conditions for the Iraqi population, who are believed to be in a worse socio-economic situation than during the 1991-2003 economic sanctions. “Basic human and social rights, including security, health, education, and work” were inaccessible or restricted to the majority of the Iraqi population[15]. It is reported that only 22 per cent of the population can rely on public provision of electricity for example. Furthermore, over a fifth of the population are reported to live below the national poverty line[16].

Iraq ranks among the world's most corrupt states, ranking 175 out 182 countries in Transparency International's 2011 Corruption Index[17].

Civil society and media

Under the Baathist rule (1968-2003), civil society came under severe state repression. The Iraqi government has worked to address the oppressive legal and administrative features of the Ba’athist regime. In March 2010, a new law was passed to regulate the registration process for NGOs in Iraq, and some believe this law to be one of the most advanced and liberal in the region. In practice, however, delays in registration have been experienced by NGOs that continue to operate outside of legal guarantees[18].

The invasion of 2003 is believed to have marked a turning point for civil society in Iraq, wherein political controls were revoked and an influx of donors and international organisations occurred in response to the humanitarian crisis. It is estimated that between 8,000 and 12,000 civil society organisations were registered in the years following 2003. A committee for civil society organisations was established by the interim government to regulate this booming sector. Some of the newly emerging NGOs were politicised and reflected ethnic or sectarian ties, while other types of NGOs functioned as “local partners” for international donors and organisations and are generally perceived as agents of the post-invasion democratisation agenda[19].

Human rights and children's rights

Human rights violations in Iraq are inextricably linked to the security situation as the efficacy of key legislative and institutional developments ultimately depends on the extent of the government’s control over Iraqi territories. In the first few months of 2009, 4.5 million Iraqis remained displaced both within and outside of the country. Several large bombing incidents fuelled by sectarian conflict occurred in 2009, killing hundreds of civilians. It has been reported that between 2004 and 2007, almost 1,300 children have been killed by the violence while 4,200 were injured[20].

In 2010, Human Rights Watch (HRW) cited the over-crowding of detention facilities, delays in trials and widespread torture and abuse by official and non-state actors among the on-going human rights abuses.

The deterioration of women’s rights is a matter of concern in Iraq, as the tribal and religious customs that are detrimental to women such as honour killings and female genital mutilation have resurged in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion. 1,270 cases of honour killings for example were reported between 2004 and 2008[21]. Trafficking is also a problem both for women and girls in Iraq as well for Iraqi refugees in the region[22].

  1. National Submission for UPR Report, Iraq, 18 January 2010 (A/HRC/WG.6/7/IRQ/1)
  2. UNDESA, Population Statistics 2011
  3. UN Data: Iraq Country Profile
  4. Save the Children Sweden, "Child Rights Situation Analysis- Middle East and North Africa" August 2011, p. 101
  5. Ibid.
  6. The Washington Post, "Iraq's Displaced Millions" 21 August 2008
  7. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, "Humanitarian Country Profile: Iraq" February 2007
  8. Ibid.
  9. BBC, "Iraq Profile" 10 January 2012
  10. Supra 1
  11. UNDP-POGAR, "Countries: Iraq in Brief"
  12. Human Rights Watch, "At a Crossroads" 3 February 2011
  13. Supra 9
  14. NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq, "Iraq's civil society in perspective" April 2011, p 10
  15. Ibid. at p. 26
  16. Save the Children Sweden, "Child Rights Situation Analysis- Middle East and North Africa" August 2011, p. 101
  17. Transparency International, "Corruption Index 2011"
  18. Supra 14 at p. 24
  19. Ibid. at p. 17
  20. Supra 16 at p. 106
  21. Human Rights Watch, UPR Submission, September 2009
  22. Supra 12


See footnotes.

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