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Baghdad, Iraq

Ahmed al-Ghizzi, Director, Voice of Iraqi Disabled Association: Today I’m going to show you the difficulties we, as people with disabilities, have getting to polling places. On election day many people with disabilities are unable to come and cast their vote. Because of the hurdles, the road blocks, the inaccessible paths, the polling stations that aren’t accessible.

Peace be with you! 

The city will close the roads and cars are not allowed. This situation is difficult for me and I live close by. I have friends who live much further and they won’t be able to bring their cars. This is the polling place. The booths will be on the second floor, for example, for someone in a wheelchair. Documents do not have braille.

Tahseen Ali al-Saadi, Voice of Iraqi Disabled Association: I didn’t participate in the last election because there weren’t accessible pathways to polling stations. Certainly I was very angry. I wanted to participate, get my rights and vote for the person who suits me and speaks to my aspirations. This is definitely a failure on the part of the government. They should be providing buses and election centers that are on the ground floor.

Abbas Gatea al-Gharawi, Voice of Iraqi Disabled Association: I want to be a part of society, I want to participate and I want to vote. I want to go to university, cinema, everything.

Ahmed al-Ghizzi, Director, Voice of Iraqi Disabled Association: We try to leave our fingerprints wherever we go. Wherever we go we look for what is missing for people with disabilities. And if there is no response from officials, we do it ourselves.

Tahseen Ali al-Saadi, Voice of Iraqi Disabled Association: We saw insufficient effort from the government so we had to rely on our own resources and we got together and collected [money] to set up ramps that would serve us and our friends with disabilities.

Ahmed al-Ghizzi, Director, Voice of Iraqi Disabled Association: Before the last election, we came and built a small ramp, about a meter, on this sidewalk. We took rainwater into account, so we left a gap there and built the ramp, about a meter long, so that a person can enter from this side. We were surprised on election day that they moved it. Who removed it? The city. We lost the feeling that this government cares about us. We were all hurt by this. Often what people with disabilities need is very simple. Perhaps the city could take a meter from here and build a ramp for people with wheelchairs because it’s important. They are an important part of the society and they want to live their lives normally, come close to the statue and take a picture. This is not difficult. We’ve felt that this country does not want people with disabilities or rejects them. 

Tahseen Ali al-Saadi, Voice of Iraqi Disabled Association: God willing they will provide polling stations that are accessible, that are not on a higher floor and where cars can drop us off at the stations. This is our ambition, so that we can vote for the person who we think can fulfil our demands.

Abbas Gatea al-Gharawi, Voice of Iraqi Disabled Association: Elections are our future. I have to have a role in this nation. I have to vote.

It’s time for change in Iraq. 

Accessibility ramps for at least 10 election polling places by 10 October.

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(Beirut) – People with disabilities in Iraq are facing significant obstacles to participating in upcoming parliamentary elections on October 10, 2021, due to discriminatory legislation and inaccessible polling places, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Without urgent changes, hundreds of thousands of people may not be able to vote.

The 36-page report, “‘No One Represents Us’: Lack of Access to Political Participation for People with Disabilities in Iraq,” documents that Iraqi authorities have failed to secure electoral rights for Iraqis with disabilities. People with disabilities are often effectively denied their right to vote due to discriminatory legislation and inaccessible polling places and significant legislative and political obstacles to running for office.

“The government should ensure that polling places are accessible to all voters,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “While some steps will take time, like amending legislation, others are easy, and the Independent High Electoral Commission has no excuse to continue to fail to address accessibility.”

Between January and August, Human Rights Watch interviewed 14 people with disabilities as well as activists, authorities, and the staff of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC).

While the Iraqi government has not collected any reliable statistics on the number of people with disabilities, in 2019, the United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities said that Iraq, plagued by decades of violence and war, including the battles against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) from 2014-2017, has one of the world’s largest populations of people with disabilities.

A voter who uses a wheelchair at a polling place in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, on May 12, 2018. (C) 2018 Safin Hamed/AFP via Getty Images

On October 10, Iraqis will vote for a new parliament,  most polling places are inaccessible to many people with disabilities. Take action today in solidarity with people with disabilities and ask the Electoral Commission to ensure voting accessibility! 


Iraq’s Parliament acceded to the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2013. Article 12 requires state parties to “recognize that persons with disabilities enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life” and article 29 calls on states to respect the political rights of people with disabilities. Iraq’s domestic law, however, falls short. The 1951 civil code does not recognize the right to legal capacity for people with disabilities, allowing the government to deprive people with intellectual, psychosocial (mental health), visual, and hearing disabilities of their legal capacity. People without legal capacity are not allowed to vote.

Article 29 of the covenant requires states to ensure that voting facilities and materials are “appropriate, accessible and easy to understand and use.” However, Iraqi authorities offer little to no accessible information to people with intellectual, visual, and hearing disabilities. Electoral materials are not presented in accessible formats such as audio, Braille, large print, sign language, and easy-to-read. Videos on the website are not accessible for people with hearing and visual disabilities. Because of the complete ban on operating vehicles on election day for security reasons, people who use mobility assistive devices can face difficulties reaching polling places.

The election commission almost exclusively uses school buildings, many of which are inaccessible, for polling places. It locates many ballot boxes on the second floor in buildings without elevators. It has no mobile voting stations, electronic voting, or postal voting, perhaps because of Iraq’s weakened postal system.

“Every election day is the most depressing day for me,” said Suha Khailil, 44, who uses a wheelchair and who has never participated in an election. “Everyone goes to vote and I am stuck at home waiting for the day to end,” she said.

People with disabilities said they sometimes must rely on assistance to reach the polling place. When that assistance comes from political party members, they sometimes try to influence how the person votes. The need for some people to get assistance to fill in their ballot or reach a ballot box raises concerns about privacy.

Ahmed al-Ghizzi, director of Voice of Iraqi Disabled Association, a Baghdad-based organization, said that his group’s survey of 2018 parliamentary elections found that only 200 members out of the about 5,000 who replied said they had been able to vote.

Available evidence suggests that people with disabilities also face significant obstacles to running for public office. Despite extensive research, Human Rights Watch was only able to identify eight people who had run for public office since 2005, including six in parliamentary elections and two in governorate elections. All candidates were men, and all had physical disabilities. The obstacles stem from discriminatory legislation, including provisions that require candidates to be “fully competent” or “fully qualified,” a lack of financial resources, and the unwillingness of political parties to seek out and support people with disabilities as candidates.

“It really makes me sad when I see all the members of parliament and there is no one to represent us,” said Naghim Khadir Elias, 47, who uses a wheelchair.

The commission has defended its policies. “Our institution is an executive one that is only concerned with implementing the electoral law that organizes all details of the electoral process,” the commission told the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in December 2020, in response to critical findings from the UN’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But the commission has the authority to select accessible voting sites and to offer transportation and disseminate accessible information.

For election day, the commission should ensure that transportation is available and that polling places are accessible. It should ensure that its election information materials are accessible and easy to understand for persons with intellectual, visual, and hearing disabilities. It should also ensure that assistance is available to those who need it and that it does not interfere with the right to cast a private and independent vote.

Iraq’s newly elected parliament should amend the relevant legislation to comply fully with the covenant. It should amend the civil code on legal capacity so the right to legal capacity is respected for anyone with a disability and that they have access to supported decision-making, if needed.

People with disabilities and their representative organizations should be consulted and included in all these efforts.

The United Nations and European Assistance Missions’ election monitoring bodies should include people with disabilities as expert monitors and include in their monitoring mandate documentation and reporting on discriminatory treatment and limitations that people with disabilities face.

“Countries financially supporting Iraq’s elections and monitoring missions, including those who have been part of the conflict, should ensure that they help make Iraq more accessible for people with disabilities, including its political system,” Wille said.

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