IILHR is known for providing essential independent, neutral, and well-informed advice to our partners. We engage our colleagues on equal terms grounded in local culture, and develop our human rights and rule of law programming based on their priorities and needs. Our goal is to provide our local partners the best possible advice and support, focusing on what they need rather than what we want them to do. We regard this as a dialogue -- which means that, depending on the complexity of the issue, the process can take weeks or months.
IILHR deploys both short- and long-term missions, and is known for its rapid, flexible, and responsive approach. IILHR plans to implement similar human rights-based programs in other states emerging from conflict, and to develop a worldwide network of experts capable of providing assistance to their government and civil society leaders.
IILHR produces a prodigious amount of written analysis, all of which is translated into local languages and freely distributed. Generally, this analysis generally falls into three categories:
- Review of Draft Legislation: IILHR receives draft legislation under parliamentary consideration, provides comments as well as best state practices and international standards, and suggestions. Where possible, IILHR jointly review legislation with Iraqi NGOs.
- Specific legislative topics: Legislators will frequently ask about international best practices on a wide range of general subjects. IILHR staff and partners will research a topic, identify “key elements” that any legislation should cover, and work to identify useful existing Iraqi law.
- Human Rights Issues: As a way to spur discussion, IILHR will also develop thematic papers that are provided as “food for thought” on a wide range of human rights issues, such as reconciliation options or minority rights.
IILHR then sits down with its partners – including parliamentarians, civil society representatives, and others – to further discuss and answer questions about a specific topic. Depending on the complexity of the issue, this process can take weeks or months. It is important to stress that IILHR’s role is strictly an advisory one. IILHR works to facilitate a consultative, collaborative dialogue; our local partners draw their own conclusions and make their own decisions.
Building and reinforcing respect for human rights and the rule of law through the framework of Iraq’s Constitution represents perhaps the most crucial governance challenge confronting the Government of Iraq today. Legislators, civil society leaders, minority groups, and other stakeholders need to accelerate and better systematize the current dialogue on the legal and constitutional underpinnings of the new Iraq, and use this process to advance progress and build a sustainable dialogue.
One of the best ways to encourage such discussion and debate is through continued direct assistance to the parliament and civil society on comparative approaches to legislation and international best practices, grounded in Iraq’s deep legal traditions. Doing so can offer all key actors the opportunity to debate the merits of a given issue. The end result will be stronger legislation, greater transparency and increased public confidence in the system, in the process building a sustainable legal framework that is supportive of human rights and meets international legal standards.
IILHR’s Iraq program works with leaders in both the Iraqi government and civil society to strengthen approaches to human rights and rule of law issues by: (1) developing draft legislation and Constitutional amendments; (2) working to enact them; (3) helping local partners in and out of government develop the capacity to advocate on specific issues, as well as assess, develop, and draft legislation; and (4) building consensus on priorities, tactics, and strategies. By providing hands-on, focused assistance, combined with sound international research and expertise, IILHR helps Iraqis develop a sustained capacity to draft legislation that fosters respect for human rights and the rule of law.
IILHR has established long-term relationships in Baghdad with senior leaders of the parliament and executive. IILHR has concluded memoranda of understanding with key parts of parliament, including the Human Rights Committee, Legal Committee, and the Speaker of the Parliament. IILHR also maintains close cooperation with jurists and legal institutions such as the State Council, so as to ground our substantive work on an Iraqi legal foundation.
IILHR also meets and confers regularly with leading Iraqi NGOs, including the International Institute for the Rule of Law, the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq, the Iraqi Organization for Human Rights Coordination, and the Iraq Civil Action Network (ICAN). ICAN, an umbrella organization consisting of more than 50 experienced Iraqi non-governmental organizations, has been a particularly active partner.
Key areas of focus have included:
Building a Viable Human Rights Commission: Iraq’s 2005 Constitution calls for establishing a Human Rights Commission, and last year enabling legislation was finally passed with IILHR staff assistance. Currently, IILHR has worked on a wide variety of issues relating to standing up this critical institution, most recently working with the Speakers Office and Human Rights Committee to develop criteria for selection of commissioners. A Commission could be named during the next session of the parliament.
Law on Non-Governmental Organizations: This draft legislation has attracted the interest of many international organizations, Iraqi parliamentarians, foreign governments, and Iraqi and international non-governmental organizations. Working closely with Iraqi NGOs, IILHR has developed a detailed, article-by-article commentary on the draft legislation, and maintains a close working relationship with the Chair and members of parliament’s Civil Society Committee. It is very likely that this legislation will be taken up following Parliamentary elections scheduled for January 2010.
Supporting Minority Rights in Iraq: In 2003, minority groups (that is, non-Shia, Sunni or Kurdish populations) made up as much as 14 percent of Iraq’s population. Today there is no clear documentation of how many. At the request of our local partners, IILHR has produced research papers on local autonomy options as called for in Iraq’s Constitution, electoral provisions for minorities, and Iraq’s treaty obligations as they relate to minority issues. These issues could come to the fore as part of the political campaign this fall and winter. IILHR also works with Iraqi NGOs with close links to the Ninewah Plain (where many minority groups reside) and seeks to encourage documentation of the human rights environment that surrounds these groups, while seeking to build a legal framework that can protect minority rights.
Refugees and Internally-Displaced Persons (IDPs): There are as many as 1.5 million refugees and 2.8 million IDPs that are Iraqi citizens who want to go back to their homes. A prerequisite for returns is a durable legal framework. Working with the International Organization for Migration, IILHR has produced a series of research papers on the current legal framework, assistance to vulnerable populations, and comparative analysis of post-conflict response to refugee and IDP issues.
Working with the Parliament’s Committee on Refugees and Displaced Persons, IILHR has commented on and worked with the Committee on a range of laws being considered, including new enabling legislation for Iraq’s property commission and the Ministry for Displaced Persons and Migration. Building the right conditions for returns – including resolution of property rights – will remain an issue that the Iraqi government will have to address for years to come.
Women’s Rights: As in most Middle Eastern countries, women play huge roles in society yet at the same time face continued discrimination and abuse. Supporting women in Iraq and specifically in the Iraqi Parliament is fundamental to supporting human rights. IILHR has taken these matters up through support for and analysis of draft legislation, including social benefits, social security, and women's care legislation. We also have worked to encourage and support the women's caucus within parliament.
Women are instrumental to Iraqi society and can also play a significant role in politics if supported in their quest to do so. In the future, IILHR also seeks to develop educational campaigns to get women involved in the political process, such as encouraging women to run for national or local office and educating disenfranchised women about their right to vote and the importance of it.
Constitutional Law: Iraq’s Constitution has been frequently called an “empty suit,” and is silent on many of the issues that are essential for Iraq’s development into a viable, constitutional state. IILHR staff have been engaged on this issue since the constitutional drafting process commenced in 2005, and worked closely with the Constitutional Review Committee in parliament in an effort to clarify issues and identify areas of consensus. This process has been ongoing, remains a high priority specifically for the current Speaker and generally for the country’s leadership, and is an essential part of building durable institutions based on respect for the rule of law.
Support for Iraqi Human Rights NGOs: Over the past five years, civil society organizations have blossomed thanks in large part to attention and programming from the international community. Iraq’s NGOs have developed institutionally and have built basic advocacy and lobbying skills, providing more potent voices in shaping Iraq’s political agenda. This is particularly true in the area of human rights.
Yet one of the most striking aspects of the Iraqi human rights environment is the near-absence of reporting on human rights conditions across the country. Even when there has been reporting, it has been limited, and in some cases, politicized. IILHR seeks to work with Iraqi NGOs to develop and adopt accepted methodologies for the comprehensive collection of human rights information, and using this information as a platform for effective advocacy and information sharing.
These are only a few of the areas where IILHR is taking an active role, in active coordination with representatives of the international community, Iraqi government, and civil society. Economic, social, and cultural rights, for example, remain an area of high interest for Iraqis, who see their progressive implementation as an opportunity to ensure that Iraq’s oil wealth returns something back to its citizens. Reconciliation and victims’ rights are also areas where there is a potential critical mass of interest.