Iraqi activists and civil society organizations have strongly condemned the Iraqi government’s recent decision to appoint the Minister of Justice to oversee the administrative and financial functions of Iraq’s High Commission of Human Rights (IHCHR). They view this move as an act of censorship and a hindrance to the commission’s crucial work, especially at a time when human rights abuses in the country are on the rise.
The decision to task Khalid Shwani, the Minister of Justice, with the management of Iraq’s human rights commission was made by the Iraqi Council of Ministers on September 12, as announced by the cabinet.
In response to this decision, Iraqi activists and civil society groups have voiced their concerns, characterizing it as a deliberate effort to further incapacitate and sideline the IHCHR. This national commission was established in accordance with code 53 of 2008 and is entrusted with the vital role of monitoring and strengthening human rights across the country.
Ali al-Bayati, the former spokesperson for IHCHR, expressed his views on the matter through a post on the social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter). He stated, “It’s not a coincidence, but rather a clear, calculated, and systematic plan. The goal is to undermine the essence of the democratic system in Iraq by disabling the work of any institution related to democracy and human rights.”
Bayati also highlighted the ongoing conflict between the government and the IHCHR, which began with an unsuccessful attempt to incorporate the commission into the cabinet through the Federal Court. Subsequently, there were efforts to intimidate and threaten its staff, delay the formation of the Commissioners Council, and ultimately culminated in transferring the institution’s management to a ministry that is supposed to oversee its work, performance, and commitment to human rights.
While the previous Iraqi cabinet led by Mustafa al-Kadhimi had already suspended IHCHR’s operations in July 2021 due to political disagreements between parliamentary blocs and factions regarding the appointment of a new board of trustees (comprising 11 members and a chairman), most of its members remain actively involved in civil society initiatives and the monitoring of social and human rights issues.
Khalid Shwani hails from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a partner in the Iraqi cabinet under Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani. PUK also holds influence in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and maintains positive relations with Iran.
Iraqi activist Azra Hamid expressed her perspective on the matter, stating, “The disputes and harassment faced by IHCHR, culminating in the freezing of its work in 2021, were largely due to the positions taken by the IHCHR’s council of commissioners in support of the popular protests that erupted in October 2019. This led most of Iraq’s religious and political forces, as well as armed factions, to view it as unnecessary.”