19Nov/19

Estimated 4.1 million people require humanitarian assistance in Iraq

Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Country: Iraq, Syrian Arab Republic

Fifty per cent of those in need are concentrated in Ninewa and Al-Anbar governorates while 1.5 million people remain internally displaced, most for more than three years.

Executive summary

The situation in Iraq remains unstable with widespread humanitarian concerns. Years of conflict uprooted millions of people, eroded social cohesion, disrupted access to basic services, destroyed livelihoods and led to increased protection risks. With weak central governance and limited progress towards recovery and development, the situation has become protracted and millions of people across Iraq remain in need of humanitarian assistance.

In 2020, Iraq is simultaneously categorized as an upper middle-income country and one that INFORM’s Global Risk Index labels as “very high risk” of a humanitarian crisis. More than two years after Iraq’s military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) ended, social, ethnic and sectarian tensions persist on multiple fronts. Political uncertainty and natural disasters continue to intensify humanitarian needs. In October 2019, protests against the recently-elected federal government erupted in Baghdad and other governorates, threatening the fledgling stability and narrowing the national focus. Also in October, a military offensive by Turkey against Kurdish forces in north-east Syria increased insecurity and uncertainty on Iraq’s western and northern borders and created an influx of Syrian refugees.

The most vulnerable people in Iraq and those in acute need of humanitarian assistance are those directly affected by the 2014-2017 conflict against ISIL, particularly those who were displaced and whose lives and livelihoods were uprooted and destroyed. In August 2019, the Government of Iraq consolidated and closed a number of IDP camps, with a stated goal of all IDPs returning home by the end of 2020. The humanitarian community in Iraq supports voluntary, dignified, informed and sustainable returns and will continue to encourage and facilitate returns in line with the agreed Principled Framework for Returns, and to support government and development partners in identifying durable solutions in areas of origin with high severity for those who wish to return.

IDPs are increasingly moving to non-camp locations or returning to their areas of origin, with unsuccessful attempts at the latter increasingly leading to the former. The needs both of returnees in areas of origin, and out-of-camp IDPs in need of assistance (mostly in areas in northern and central Iraq), are particularly severe. Ninetythree per cent of districts in northern and central Iraq report access constrains including, but not limited to, intimidation, presence of armed actors, checkpoint issues, explosive ordnance, and bureaucratic and administrative restrictions.

Scope of Analysis

The humanitarian landscape in 2019 was characterized by a postconflict environment witnessing very slow returns and unaddressed stabilization and development needs. The 2019 Multi-Cluster Needs Assessments were conducted in two thirds of districts nationally and with all affected population groups. Significant population movements took place in the latter half of 2019 with government-initiated camp closures resulting in significant reductions in in-camp populations, considerable increases in out-of-camp displaced populations and returnees, and movements of people between governorates.

Humanitarian Consequences

The impact of the conflict continues to affect the physical and mental well-being, living standards, and capacity for resilience and recovery of millions of Iraqis. Exposure to violence and explosive ordnance resulted in many people sustaining physical and psychological injuries. Vulnerable people, including people with perceived affiliation to extremists, are among the most in need of assistance and at risk of rights violations. Considerable secondary displacement has been caused by forced and premature returns and forced or coerced departures from camps and informal settlements in Ninewa, Salah AlDin, Al-Anbar, Kirkuk and Diyala governorates.

Many people, especially the most vulnerable, are unable to independently meet their basic needs like food and shelter. They lack access to services such as health care, potable water, improved sanitation, and education, and livelihoods opportunities remain limited. In addition, many affected people witnessed traumatic events which caused severe psychological harm requiring highly specialized assistance in order to have a safe and dignified life.

With reconstruction of vital infrastructure and the re-establishment of essential services facing major delays, at-risk populations increasingly resort to negative coping mechanisms, including debt accrual and dangerous, harmful practices, further undermining resilience and increasing dependence on humanitarian assistance.

Severity of Needs

Nearly half of all people in need – more than 1.77 million people – have acute humanitarian needs. IDPs in and out of camps, and returnees, experienced partial or full collapse of living standards and disrupted access to basic goods and services, exhausting their capacities to cope and frequently resorting to negative coping strategies, including liquidation of livelihoods assets. The most acute needs continue to be found in governorates that witnessed direct conflict, such as Al-Anbar, Ninewa, Kirkuk and Salah Al-Din, and in governorates that received significant numbers of the displaced, such as Duhok. Without intracommunal reconciliation, large-scale reconstruction and widespread economic rejuvenation — all of which are outside the humanitarian sphere — these numbers will persist in 2020. The most vulnerable include people with perceived affiliation to extremist groups, who are unwelcome in their areas of origin, face stigma and discrimination, and have significant protection needs.

People in Need

Out of the 6 million people displaced during the 2014-2017 conflict against ISIL, humanitarian partners estimate that 4.1 million people require some form of humanitarian assistance. Of the people in acute need, 50 per cent are concentrated in only two governorates – Ninewa and Al-Anbar. Approximately 1.5 million people remain internally displaced, 70 per cent of whom have been displaced for more than three years. Return rates have also slowed from the peak period, but the vulnerabilities of the returnees remain — overall, an estimated 514,000 returnees across 286 locations in eight governates live in areas of high severity. Some 23 per cent of all people in acute need are concentrated in three districts of 63 assessed: Al-Mosul and Telafar in Ninewa and Al-Falluja in Al-Anbar. While the needs analysis is based on current caseloads, humanitarian partners are, in parallel, also able to respond to changes in the context, including natural disasters or arrivals of Iraqi citizens of Syrian refugees from Syria.

19Nov/19

Myanmar: More Jail Time for Satirical Troupe

Activists hold blue shirts that read: “Condemning on charge by military [is] oppressing freedom of expression,” during the trial of members of the Student Union and leaders of Peacock Generation “Thangyat” performance group in Yangon, Myanmar. 


© 2019 AP Photo/Thein Zaw

(Bangkok) – A Yangon court handed down more convictions against members of a satirical theater troupe for allegedly mocking Myanmar’s armed forces, Human Rights Watch said today.

On November 18, 2019, a court in Botataung township sentenced six members of the Peacock Generation Thangyat troupe to one year in prison. Seven troupe members had been arrested earlier in the year for performing satirical slam poetry known as thangyat, a traditional vehicle for humorous criticism of topics from politics to social behavior.

“Court rulings that performance artists are a threat to the military make a mockery of free expression rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The Myanmar military’s ridiculous efforts to intimidate these actors for satirizing the military show how low they will stoop to silence critics.”

The Myanmar authorities should immediately quash all the verdicts and drop pending charges against members of the troupe that violate the right to freedom of expression.

The troupe members were convicted of violating section 505(a) of the criminal code, which makes it a crime to make any statement with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, any member of the armed forces “to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such.” Five of the troupe members were sentenced under the same charges by another court in Yangon’s Mayangone township in October and will serve a minimum of two years in prison.

They are Kay Khine Tun, Zayar Lwin, Paing Ye Thu, Paing Phyo Min, and Zaw Lin Htut. They have been held without bail in Myanmar’s Insein Prison since being charged in April. Su Yadanar Myint, who was arrested in May, will serve one year.

Zayar Lwin, Paing Ye Thu, and Paing Phyo Min still face charges under 505(a) in three other township courts in the Ayerwaddy region.

“This shouldn’t be happening,” Paing Ye Thu told Human Rights Watch immediately after the trial on November 18. “Thangyat is our traditional custom and the military is just abusing its power by charging us so many times in different courts.”

The seventh defendant, Nyein Chan Soe, was acquitted of 505(a) charges by the Botataung court on November 18. However, he will be released on bail as he still faces charges under section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law at the same court.

All seven defendants are facing additional charges under section 66(d) for “defaming” the military, which brings a maximum prison sentence of two years. The authorities have repeatedly used section 66(d) against those criticizing the government or the military online.

In an open letter published on the Civicus website on November 15, the seven members stated: “We will keep criticizing and pointing out the flawed system in different ways because it is important for us to amend the constitution and to get the military out of politics so that we can pursue genuine democracy in Myanmar.”

Speech critical of the government is increasingly subject to prosecution in Myanmar by members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) as well as by the military. More than 250 people have faced criminal lawsuits in 2019 under various laws restricting freedom of expression.

Section 354 of Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution states that all citizens should be at liberty “to express and publish freely their convictions and opinions.”

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in its general comment on the right to freedom of expression, stated that the “mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties.” Thus, “all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.”

“Myanmar’s friends and donors have good reason to be wondering why the military is persecuting a theater troupe,” Robertson said. “Unless such trials stop, it’s hard to have hope for free expression in Myanmar.”
 

18Nov/19

Central European University Opens Vienna Campus After Hungary Ousting

Central European University (CEU) founder and honorary chairman, George Soros at the CEU Vienna Campus opening ceremony in Vienna, Austria, November 15, 2019. 


© 2019 Lydia Gall/Human Rights Watch

I felt a sense of defiance in the air at the opening ceremony. As George Soros, the Hungarian-born philanthropist who founded the CEU in 1991, said at the ceremony: “CEU has steadfastly defended the principle of academic freedom against concentrated attack by the corrupt government of Viktor Orban who was hellbent to destroy it. CEU’s epic struggle against the repressive regime generated worldwide support. That struggle is still ongoing.”

The CEU, considered one of the most prominent universities in Central Europe, has educated 17,000 students from more than 100 countries, many of whom have gone on to assume key public positions or become leading civil society members. Some of my own friends and colleagues are alumni who wouldn’t have been able to get a first-class academic education had it not been for CEU. In addition, the university contributes €24 million annually to the Hungarian economy.

Despite this, the Hungarian government went to extreme lengths to make it impossible for CEU to operate in Hungary. A 2017 law on foreign higher education institutions appeared to target CEU specifically; once the university had complied with the law’s onerous requirements, the government refused to sign the contract that would have enabled CEU to remain in Hungary. The campaign against the CEU is part of a broader authoritarian slide in the country.

The new European Commission should build on the steps taken in the last two years to hold Hungary accountable for breaching fundamental EU values. It should carry forward the so-called article 7 process – a political sanction mechanism – and make it clear that attacks on fundamental freedoms, including academic freedom, will affect Hungary’s access to EU funding.

18Nov/19

Calling Out Kazakhstan on Domestic Violence

The United Nation’s top women rights body has criticized Kazakhstan’s government over its poor record on domestic violence and protecting women with disabilities.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has voiced concerns that the offences of “intentional infliction of minor injury” and “battery” – the most common means of prosecuting domestic violence in Kazakhstan – have been decriminalized.

Participants protest against discrimination and gender-based violence during a rally held by members of feminist organizations and social activists in Almaty, Kazakhstan September 28, 2019. The placard reads “To jail for violence, not truth”. 


© 2019 REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev

The Committee’s concerns echo Human Rights Watch’s own findings. Human Rights Watch documented how the 2017 decriminalization of these offences stops women from getting the protection they need. Moreover, inadequate measures by authorities to prevent violence, hold abusers accountable, and inform women about their rights to shelter and protection orders leaves survivors without support and puts them at risk of further abuse.

Human Rights Watch found that authorities often pressured women not to file complaints about domestic violence or failed to respond when they did. When Aigerim, 38, told police that her husband continued to abuse her even after she filed multiple complaints, an officer told her they could not intervene because she did not have visible wounds. “I asked him, ‘[W]hat, are you going to wait until he kills me?’” she said.

CEDAW has now recommended Kazakhstan’s government amend its law to specifically criminalize domestic violence and ensure effective investigation of violence against women and appropriate punishment of those responsible. They also recommended that police who fail survivors be held accountable and that the government establish adequate shelters for survivors.

The committee also expressed concerns about lack of employment opportunities and limited access to healthcare for women with disabilities, including reproductive health services. It called for an end to women with disabilities being subjected to forced sterilization and forced abortion, and for these practices to be criminalized.

The women’s rights committee is not alone in putting Kazakhstan on notice. During a November 7 review of Kazakhstan’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council, several governments urged authorities to criminalize domestic violence.

If unchanged, Kazakhstan’s legislation will leave abusers free to continue hurting women. The government should swiftly implement the Committee’s recommendations and ensure all women’s right to life without fear of abuse.