The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Iraq is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Iraq is not a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Iraq is a State Party to the 2004 Arab Charter of Human Rights. Under Article 24(6) of the Charter, every citizen has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 38 of Iraq's 2005 Constitution provides that the State "shall guarantee in a way that does not violate public order and morality" freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration "and this shall be regulated by law".
Under existing regulations dating back to the Coalition occupation of Iraq,Provisional Order 19 of 2003, adopted by the Coalition Provisional Authority.notification of a public assembly is required at least 24 hours in advance and the authorities have broad discretion in limiting an assembly's size and location. Article 3 of Order 19 prohibits assemblies in public places from lasting for more than four hours and they cannot be held during peak traffic hours without prior approval from the authorities.
Article 4 of Order 19 of 2003 prohibits “any march, assembly, meeting or gathering on roadways, public thoroughfares or public places unless an Approving Authority has been given notice in writing of the location, the maximum number of persons participating, and the names and addresses of the organizers of any such march, assembly, meeting or gathering, its route, and its time of inception and duration at least 24 hours before such inception.” The Order does not provide specific grounds on which authorities may reject the notice, as such they appear to have broad discretion to do so. Article 9 of Order 100 of 2004, which amended parts of Order 19, granted the right for organisers to appeal to a federal court if denied the opportunity to assemble, and if such denial is “arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise contrary to law”.
In 2011, the Ministry of Interior issued an order prohibiting street protests and allowing demonstrations to take place only in certain football stadiums. Also in 2011 Iraq’s Council of Ministers approved a draft Law on the Freedom of Expression, Assembly, and Peaceful Demonstration. But the draft law has not yet been approved by Parliament.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Iraq does not have detailed regulation of the use of force by law enforcement agencies as international law requires. Internal security forces in Iraq are authorised to use force by the 1980 Law on Police Officers’ Crime Prevention Duties, which allows the use of force "to suppress unrest, which may threaten order and public security”.Art. 4, Law on Police Officers’ Crime Prevention Duties, Law No. 176 of 1980.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
In Iraq there is not regulation of the use of firearms by law enforcement officials as international law requires. The 1980 Police Law permits use of firearms -- even if it would lead to a "deliberate murder" -- to prevent abduction, arson, resistance or escape from arrest by an offender convicted to death or to life imprisonment, the occupation or destruction of places "where internal security forces settle", the destruction or occupation of equipment or property under the responsibility of the police, or sabotage of public utilities.Art. 3(2), Law on Police Officers’ Crime Prevention Duties, Law No. 176 of 1980.These rules do not comply with international law.
In early October 2019, the death toll in anti-government protests that swept Iraq for several days rose to at least 70.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies and Experts
In an August 2020 report on assemblies in Iraq,Human Rights Violations and Abuses in the Context of Demonstrations in Iraq October 2019 to April 2020, Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Baghdad, August 2020.the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights stated that: "People were killed, injured, tortured and mistreated, kidnapped, disappeared, arbitrarily detained, for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. This is unacceptable. Everyone has the right to peacefully demonstrate and to publicly express their frustration at not being able to provide for themselves and their families."
In its 2015 Concluding Observations on Iraq, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern about
allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement and security officials to disperse demonstrations, which in some instances has reportedly resulted in the loss of life and people being wounded.
The Committee called on Iraq to ensure
that all instances of excessive use of force are promptly, impartially and effectively investigated and those responsible brought to justice. It should also take measures to effectively prevent and eradicate all forms of excessive use of force by law-enforcement and security officials, including by guaranteeing their systematic training on the use of force, taking due account of the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
The Committee also expressed its concern "at allegations of acts of discrimination and violence against persons on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as the social stigmatization and social exclusion of these persons". The Committee regretted
the lack of clarity on the right of homosexuals to hold peaceful demonstrations. While the Committee observes the diversity of morality and cultures internationally, it recalls that they must always be subject to the principles of universality of human rights and non-discrimination.
The Committee called on Iraq to take "the measures necessary to ensure that such persons can fully enjoy all the human rights enshrined in the Covenant, including the right to peaceful assembly".
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2021 report on Iraq:
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but protesters are frequently at risk of violence or arrest, and these dangers became acute during the 2019–20 protest movement. Security forces used curfews, tear gas, and live ammunition to suppress demonstrations in Baghdad and other southern cities that began in October 2019 against corruption, poor infrastructure and government services, and high unemployment. By mid-December, some 25,000 people had been injured during the protests, and at least 700 were killed. Iraqi security forces and pro-Iranian militias routinely opened live fire at protesters. Iraqi officials and journalists reported that snipers under the command of Iranian-backed militia units used live ammunition to shoot at protesters from rooftops and carried out a wave of kidnappings of protest organizers and activists. Iranian media and media outlets linked to Iranian-backed militias spread false reports about activists to justify their targeting.
Authorities in Iraq, particularly in Kurdistan, exploited COVID-19 lockdowns to ban protests and restrict the ability of individuals to reach protest sites. In May 2020, Kurdistan Regional Government security forces in Dohuk opened fire and arrested protesters who were demanding improvement in living conditions, an end to corruption, and payment of unpaid state salaries.