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Ali must travel!

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Amnesty International: Iraq must protect civilians at risk of deadly violence

27 April 2010

Amnesty International on Tuesday called on the Iraqi authorities to urgently step up the protection of civilians amid the recent surge of deadly violence in the country.

A new Amnesty International report, Iraq: Civilians Under Fire, documents how hundreds of civilians are being killed or injured each month.

Many are specifically targeted by armed groups because of their religious, ethnic or sexual identity or because they speak out against human rights abuses.

Ongoing uncertainty over when a new Iraqi government will be formed has led to a recent spike in attacks, with more than 100 civilian deaths in the first week of April alone.

"Iraqis are still living in a climate of fear, seven years after the US-led invasion. The Iraqi authorities could do much more to keep them safe, but over and over they are failing to help the most vulnerable in society," said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa programme.

Amnesty International urged the authorities to do more to protect those who are particularly at risk and bring those responsible for violent crimes to justice, without recourse to the death penalty.

While Iraqi security forces, foreign troops or family members are responsible for some human rights abuses, most killings of civilians are carried out by armed groups, including al-Qa'ida in Iraq. The organization remains a significant presence in the country despite the recent reported deaths of three senior leaders.

Human rights defenders, journalists and political activists are among those who have been killed or maimed in Iraq because of their work.

Omar Ibrahim Al-Jabouri, the head of public relations at Rasheed TV station, only just escaped with his life in an attack on 13 April 2010. He lost his legs after being caught in an explosion of a bomb attached to his vehicle as he was driving to his office in Baghdad.

Religious and ethnic minorities also continue to be targeted for attack, with at least eight Christians killed in Mosul in February 2010 in apparent sectarian attacks.

Christian students Zia Toma, 22, and Ramsin Shmael, 21, were stopped by unidentified gunmen on 17 February 2010 at a bus stop in Mosul who demanded to see their identity cards. When the gunmen opened fire, Toma was killed and Shmael was injured but survived.

Women and girls are particularly at risk of violence from both armed groups and their relatives. Few men are known to have been convicted of rape in Iraq. Women frequently suffer at the hands of relatives, in so-called honour crimes, if their behaviour is seen to go against traditional moral codes, for instance by refusing to marry men who have been selected for them. Activists have also been targeted for speaking out in favour of women's rights.

Members of the gay community in Iraq, where homosexuality is not tolerated, live under constant threat of violence, with some Muslim clerics urging their followers to attack suspected homosexuals.

Authorities frequently fail to carry out thorough and impartial investigations into attacks on civilians, arrest suspects or bring perpetrators to justice. In some cases, they are even accused of being implicated in violent attacks.

As a result of the ongoing insecurity, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including a disproportionately high number of minority communities, have been forced to flee their homes. Internally displaced people and refugees are even more vulnerable to violence, as well as economic hardship.

Amnesty International called on the Iraqi authorities to immediately introduce measures to improve the safety of civilians. They should consult with members of at-risk groups to see how best they can protect them.

In the meantime, the organization said the authorities must begin properly investigating attacks on civilians and to hold perpetrators, whoever they are, responsible for their crimes in accordance with international law. They should immediately disarm all militias and end the identification of religious affiliation on identity cards.

All armed groups in Iraq should immediately end human rights abuses, including attacks against civilians, abductions and torture.

Amnesty International also called for an end to all forcible returns of refugees to Iraq as long as the country remains unstable. Several European governments are forcibly returning people to Iraq – including to the most dangerous parts of the country – in direct violation of guidelines set out by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

Amnesty International has spoken to several Iraqis who were forcibly returned by the Netherlands government on 30 March 2010. Among the 35 refugees was a 22-year-old Shi'a Turkoman man from Tal Afar, a city north of Mosul, where hundreds of civilians have been killed in sectarian or other politically motivated violence in recent years, and where the violence continues unabated. As of mid-April, he remained stranded in Baghdad.

"The continuing uncertainty as to when a new government will be formed following last month's election could well contribute to a further increase of violent incidents of which civilians are the main victims. The uncertainty is threatening to make a bad situation even worse. Both the Iraqi authorities and the international community must act now to prevent more unnecessary deaths," said Malcolm Smart.

Iraq: Civilians under fire

Read the report's section 'attacks on gay men'

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ali Hili campaign update

First campaign coverage in Middle East, first direct comment by government on case

Labour's election web campaign supremo asks Johnson to act
1000 sign petition in fortnight, hundreds of letters to Johnson

A major middle east news source has written about the campaign for Ali Hili and Iraqi LGBT, the first major news outlet for the region to cover the campaign.

The Media Line also secured the first direct comment on Hili's case from the UK government. They said that it is being dealt with by UK Border Agency (UKBA) Case Resolution Directorate and “the reason it hasn’t been prioritised is because it doesn’t fall into one of the priority categories listed on our website.”

When applying for his case to be prioritised, Hili's solicitor Barry O'Leary explained that he needed to travel to fulfill speaking engagements which would directly aid lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) suffering terror in Iraq through publicising their cause.

Six months later, and interpreting those "priority categories", the UKBA told O'Leary that:
  • the assistance which Hili has given to the Foreign Office (and mentioned in their 2009 Human Rights Report) "does not count"
  • the fatwa (death threat against him) does not mean that Hilli "falls within the classification of clear and immediate vulnerability"
  • that the delay in deciding Hilli's asylum case (since July 2007) "is not in itself an exceptional circumstance"
  • his case is not "compelling"
The UKBA explanation is in contradiction to the response given to MP Clare Short, prompted to write by a constituent. She was told by Gail Adams, West Midlands Regional Director of the UKBA that "information contained in applications to the UKBA is treated as being strictly confidential and is not normally disclosed to third parties."

Campaigners are determined to get the British Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, to intervene and order Hili's case prioritised - as he is able to do. 
  • They would like it to become an issue in the UK election. 
  • They say that the lack of resolution and consequent inability to travel and meet politicians and journalists in places such as Washington DC, Brussels and Madrid directly affects LGBT who are suffering a pogrom which continues in the country.
  • Iraqi LGBT say they will be releasing a video next month which addresses the ongoing campaign against LGBT, particularly in Iraq's south, a region formally under the control of the British. They say that in recent weeks there have been a number of murders of young gays.
Within a fortnight of the launch of the campaign, over 1000 people have signed an international petition. Over 250 mainly Americans have used change.org to send a message demanding intervention from the UK Home Secretary. Campaigners say they are aware of over 100 other letters going to both Alan Johnson and Gordon Brown.

And Iraqi LGBT have been informed that a number of MPs have asked Johnson to act, including the head of Labour's web campaign for the general election Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East.
The author Stella Duffy posted a link to the campaign on her Facebook page.

Besides The Media Line, a number of other blogs and websites covering Iraq have featured the case and support has come from many Iraqis.

Further coverage of Hili's case and the plight of LGBT in Iraq has come from a wide variety of media around the world.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Iraq 7 Years Later: A Journey of Return

Seven years after the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, New Internationalist co-editor Hadani Ditmars returned to a land she last visited in October 2003 to research her book Dancing in the No Fly Zone.

With more than a million people dead in the wake of post-invasion violence, infrastructure in ruins despite $53 billion dollars in ‘aid’, rampant corruption and continuing human rights abuses, the promise of democracy remains a hollow one.

But there are signs of life amidst the devastation. The national theatre has re-opened, women continue to defy oppressive fundamentalism, and young people dream of a better future, where a renewed sense of national identity trumps sectarian divisions.

Join Hadani for the launch of the May issue on Iraq, as well as a lively discussion on the country’s future with special guests Hassan Abdulrazzak, who wrote the play Baghdad Wedding, gay rights activist Ali Hili, and writer Haifa Zangana.

Date: April 29, 2010 7:00 PM
Frontline Club
13 Norfolk Place,
London W2 1QJ
Tel: +44 (0)20 7479 8950

Moved to Hellenic Centre
16-18 Paddington St, Marylebone, W1U 5AS
Closest Tube Station: Paddington
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