Dubai: Mohammad Shia Al Sudani, Iraq’s Minister of Human Rights, has said that there is no ban on demonstrations in the country and the government is keen to ensure that citizens will have this constitutional right, but with some regulations.
Currently all demonstration requests are being rejected by the government and if rallies do take place security forces are cracking down on them. In this interview with Gulf News, he also alleges interference by some regional countries in Iraq’s internal affairs.
Do you think that the issue of “banning” demonstrations in Iraq is against basic human rights, or are you trying to avoid this issue for political reasons?
There is no ban on demonstrations. On the contrary, the government is keen to ensure that citizens have this constitutional right, but with regulations. It is true that no regulations have been made so far, as the draft law on demonstrations and rallies is still under discussion in parliament. However, there are some regulatory procedures that have nothing to do with the prevention, rejection, or approval of demonstrations in light of the security situation in Iraq, especially in Baghdad. This requires coordination and approval by the security agencies for the purpose of taking precautions to secure demonstrations. We all know that terrorist groups through suicide bombers and car bombs target large gatherings of innocent and defenceless citizens. These are legitimate concerns for the security services. We found in all provinces demonstrators praised the work of the security services, with the exception of what happened in the province of Dhi Qar, and we asked for an investigation into what happened there. The provincial council and the prosecutor are currently investigating the incidents.
You issued a statement recently warning of a conspiracy to drive Iraq into sectarian conflict. Did the warning come as a result of mounting terrorist attacks and the spread of murder on the basis of identity, or did you rely on reports by government agencies? Do you think that the government will deal with your warning seriously or will ignore it as in the past?
Yes, there are fears of conspiracy attempts unfortunately supported or planned by some regional countries with the help of some parties at home working to stir up sedition, sectarianism, hatred and resentment among the Iraqi people who have lived in unity and harmony for thousands of years. But these schemes are trying to sow discord and destroy the social fabric. These fears were based on some reports from intelligence services and official local and foreign bodies. Certainly the Iraqi government takes precautionary measures to confront these conspiracies.
Some reports are talking about Iraq’s poor human rights record and others say detainees in the country’s prisons are maltreated. These reports are provided by international organisations, such as Human Rights Watch and others. How far true are these reports?
Many of the reports issued by international organisations include information that is already included in the reports of the Ministry of Human Rights. However, some of the information is not accurate because it is based on media outlets and political parties trying to incite public opinion against the government. Yes, there are indications of abuse and violations in prisons, and this was stated by the top official in the Iraqi government, the prime minister. We stressed on more than one occasion that we do not clear all the security agencies or prison departments. There are some abusers and corrupt individuals who may do these acts, but what concerns us is the official response and reaction of the government, which monitors these observations and abuses and addresses them with disciplinary and administrative procedures and refers some of these cases to courts. It is not a matter of systematic policy, but rather individual acts which will be addressed as time goes by. This phenomenon will be monitored, followed up and dealt with. In the meantime, the security agencies, prison departments, supervisors and officials taking over the law enforcement need to be trained and educated on how to implement their duties without violating the rights of detainees no matter what their crimes are. The law and the constitution include a set of legal and enforceable guarantees for detainees.
Will your ministry support the demonstrators’ demands for basic rights related to services, jobs and other basics of life, or do you consider them just rallies to stir up chaos and instability?
Yes, we have announced that we support peaceful demonstrations with legitimate demands concerning economic, cultural and social rights related to services, employment, health, housing and education. These are genuine rights which the government is required to provide for citizens, and we confirmed that citizens have the right to claim these demands. In this regard, we followed up the demands of most demonstrations by discussing them with official bodies, such as the House of Representatives, or with my presence as a member of the committee and we followed-up the demands of demonstrators. The Ministry of Human Rights bore the brunt of the process of following-up and these demands, and it played an important role in meeting a lot of these demands.
Where does the Iraqi constitution stand on the issue of human rights?
The Iraqi constitution is the best document in the region and comparable to many countries in the world as it tackles the issue of rights and freedoms in more than 32 articles. This represents one of the most important gains in the new Iraq. The Iraqi people struggled for a long time against the tyrant dictator Saddam Hussain, his repressive bodies and his fascist party for these rights and freedoms. The Iraqi people will stick to these gains while confronting terrorism and remnants of its dictatorial regime. They will maintain these rights and freedoms and will use them properly in a way that maintains the Iraqi State.
On numerous occasions we saw real aggression against unarmed peaceful demonstrators in Baghdad and other places. Perhaps the most recent example was what happened in Dhi Qar. How do you deal with such situations? What is your role in such events?
Yes, the ministry noted abuses carried out by security forces in Dhi Qar and Baghdad, and we asked for investigations to punish the offenders. The ministry’s offices and departments completely reject these abuses. The security services should secure any peaceful demonstration in coordination with the organisers and should provide an appropriate atmosphere for citizens to enjoy this constitutional right. We call upon all citizens to raise their demands peacefully and without violence and to coordinate with the concerned authorities.
In your opinion, can Iraq place the rights of its citizens ahead of political squabbling?
We hope the safety and rights of citizens will be a matter agreed upon by everyone and remain out of political quarrels. It is natural that there are differences as is the case in all democratic countries and governments. But we must agree on the interests and rights of citizens and the security and sovereignty of the country. Yes, there are still some political forces whose views and differences with some parties unfortunately have an impact on this important issue. This increases the suffering of citizens, and it is caused by a failure of political vision. We hope in time these political forces will realise that the interests, safety and rights of citizens is an ethical commitment in which people in power took an oath to serve their country and their people.
What are the recommendations you came out with from the first conference on exposing terrorism which was attended by the representative of the UN in Iraq? In your opinion, will any of the recommendations help curb ongoing bloodshed in the country?
The conference came up with more than 25 recommendations. We are in the process of holding a preparatory committee to agree on a mechanism to follow up the implementation of these recommendations with other bodies.
What do you think of the ongoing sit-ins in Ramadi in the Al Anbar province?
The demonstrations or sit-ins in governorates which took place recently only in Ramadi are still within a peaceful framework and the people are expressing legitimate demands. The government has dealt with these demonstrations patiently and protected them. [Government] was not provoked, despite attempts to drag it into clashes with citizens. We all know that there are incidents of beheading and killings of soldiers. The security forces were attacked near the sit-in venue, but the government exercised self-restraint and wisdom.