von Ali Rascho
The religious and ethnic minorities’ rights in the new Iraq are under constant threat, the most obvious being the Parliament’s removal of Article 50 from the Provincial Elections bill. On July 22, 2008, the Iraqi Parliament ratified the Provincial Elections bill. Article 50 of this law provided seats in provincial government to minority groups, such as the Yezidi, Shabak, Assyrian, and Sabaean. Although the seats under Article 50 did not allocate enough seats to be proportional with the minority population (only 1 Yazidi representative for a population of 600,000), it was welcomed by these groups since it recognized their rights as true citizens of Iraq. The ratified law was rejected the following week by the Presidency Council and returned to Parliament. After two months of postponed dialogue, the bill was finally voted on again. On September 24, due to an agreement between the Kurdish and Shi'a political groups, Parliament ratified the law without Article 50. The decision of the Iraqi Parliament to remove Article 50 is an obvious testament to the lack of legal rights among Iraqi minority groups.
By removing Article 50, the Iraqi Parliament deprived Iraq’s minorities of their legal right to representation in government. Consequently, this prevents minority groups from fair participation in Iraq’s future. This lack of political representation will encourage the insurgents to intimidate minorities using violence, and will lead to internally displaced persons and migration of minorities from their homelands and heritage. I have come to the conclusion that there are many elements within the Iraqi government who desire to rid Iraq of its religious, ethnic and indigenous minorities and occupy their land.
There have been many Ainstances of intimidation directed at Iraq’s minority groups. Twenty-four Yezidi textile workers were massacred in Mosul on April 24, 2007 and four horrendous blasts in Al-Qahtania and Al-Jazeera villages on August 14 of that year killed approximately 400 Yezidi and injured at least twice as many. After these attacks, all Yezidi and most Iraqi Christian university students left their higher education at Iraqi universities. Students who graduated from secondary schools in the past two years are still at home and cannot pursue higher education. There have also been kidnappings and assassinations of Christian priests and destruction of churches. There are a number of questions that must be answered. Who is responsible for this problem? How can it be solved, and by whom? Minority group members are being killed by insurgents while they are deprived of political representation in government.
As human rights defenders, we have informed international organizations of such situations for many years and they are well aware of the danger caused such kinds of discrimination. We urge these organizations to apply more pressure on the Iraqi government to respect the rights of minority groups. The removal of Article 50 from the Provincial Elections bill indicates that Iraqi minorities are afforded few rights. Under the current structure, there is no political mechanism for minority groups to express their grievances.
As a result of the current situation, we request the following:
Equal representation proportional to population in provincial and federal government.
A fair part of the Iraqi national wealth on the basis of residency, as minority groups have been deprived of their rights inside and outside Iraq and most of them have been displaced or have fled to Europe.
A semi-autonomous region under the protection of the international community.
Most of Iraq’s minorities live in a limited geographical region on the Nineveh plain, so they can consolidate efforts to encourage the international community and international human rights organizations to address these concerns through the following means:
Empowering an international lobby of political parties, NGOs, and other human rights defenders around the globe to manage an advocacy campaign.
Organizing demonstrations and advocacy campaigns at the United Nations and the embassies of the U.S., UK, China, France, and Russia in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and provide the embassies with copies of the two laws (before and after ratification) and a memorandum of our criticism.
Note: Yesterday, November 3, 2008 the Iraqi parliament approved the minorities' merits to as minimum as possible and confirm a seat for each minority, (Yezidis, Christians, Shabak, and Mandaeans), while their merits are exceeding much more than this.
As a human rights defender, I am requesting the international organizations to do their best for this very serious situation, which concerns the legal survival of indigenous peoples and groups that have called Iraq their home for thousand of years.