(New York) - The Iraqi authorities should order an immediate independent inquiry into each of eight killings and any unlawful use of force by security forces during demonstrations on February 25, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. Dozens more were injured in crackdowns on demonstrations in several Iraqi towns and cities. Human Rights Watch observed security forces beating unarmed journalists and protesters in Baghdad, and counted at least 18 injured.
Any unlawful use of force, especially force resulting in deaths, should lead to the prosecution of those responsible, including those who gave the orders or who were otherwise responsible, Human Rights Watch said. The Iraqi authorities also should lift all unnecessary restrictions on peaceful assembly and protest.
"The Iraqi authorities need to rein in their security forces and account for every single killing," said Tom Porteous, deputy program director for Human Rights Watch. "The security forces need to use the maximum possible restraint in dealing with protesters."
In Mosul, security forces opened fire, reportedly killing at least two people and wounding 20, after demonstrators tried to force their way into a provincial council building. In the town of Hawijah, security forces shot stone-throwing protesters, killing at least three and wounding more than 12, according to news reports and a local journalist interviewed by Human Rights Watch. In Ramadi, security forces fired on about 250 demonstrators, killing one person and wounding eight. And in Tirkit, police fired on demonstrators trying to raid a government building, killing two and wounding nine.
In Baghdad, security forces severely limited demonstrations after imposing strict restrictions on vehicle travel, starting in the early morning. The ban by Baghdad Operations Command forced protesters to walk to the center of the capital for the demonstration and prevented television satellite trucks from covering the protests live. Scores of demonstrations have taken place across the country since early February, mainly focused on the chronic lack of basic services and perceived widespread corruption. Since February 16 security forces have killed more than a dozen protesters and injured more than 150 at demonstrations throughout Iraq.
Earlier this week, Iraqi police allowed dozens of assailants to beat and stab peaceful protesters in Baghdad. In the early hours of February 21, dozens of men, some wielding knives and clubs, attacked about 50 protesters who had set up two tents in Baghdad's Tahrir Square. The assailants stabbed and beat at least 20 of the protesters who were intending to camp in the square until February 25, when groups had called for national protests similar to the "Day of Anger" in Egypt. The February 21 attack came directly after the police had withdrawn from the square, and witnesses suggested the assailants were in discussion with the police before they attacked.
On June 25, 2010, in response to thousands of Iraqis who took to the streets to protest a chronic lack of government services, the interior ministry issued regulations with onerous provisions that effectively impeded Iraqis from organizing lawful protests. The regulations required organizers to get "written approval of both the minister of interior and the provincial governor" before submitting an application to the relevant police department, not less than 72 hours before a planned event. These regulations are still in effect.
Iraq's constitution guarantees "freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration."As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iraq is obligated to protect the rights to life and security of the person, and the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Iraq should also abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, which state that lethal force may only be used when strictly unavoidable to protect life, and must be exercised with restraint and proportionality. The principles also require governments to "ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense under their law."
Human rights law on the right to life, including article 6 of the ICCPR, requires an effective and transparent investigation when deaths may have been caused by state officials, leading to the identification and prosecution of the perpetrators of any crimes that took place.