Following a week of protests which saw the deaths of at least 105 people, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned the “excessive and unnecessary lethal force” of the Iraqi military who were sent to suppress rock-throwing demonstrators.
In their report, HRW called upon Iraqi officials to hold accountable members of the security forces responsible for the brutal suppression of protesters in the capital Baghdad, and several other cities.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW, writes;
"For more than a decade, Iraqi governments have said they would investigate abuses by security forces but haven't done so,"
"The killing of at least 105 protestors requires a transparent investigation that results in public findings and accountability for abuses."
Protesters, mostly young men, gathered in the thousands across Iraq to denounce the government’s rampant corruption, lack of opportunity and poor public services. Al Jazeera notes that the protests began in Baghdad but quickly spread to the Shia heartland in the south, including the flashpoint city of Basra.
In response to the protests, the government imposed a strict curfew and shut down the internet to stop social media and limit the protests. Men in official uniform stormed several local television stations and staff were threatened. The men demanded they stop broadcasting.
HRW condemned this interference with media and communication lines maintaining that the government had a duty under international law to protect free speech and assembly. In their report they state;
"While national security is a legitimate basis for restrictions on freedom of expression, these restrictions must be necessary and proportionate to address a specific security concern”.
For the first time, Iraq’s military acknowledged the excessive use of force telling reporters;
"Excessive force outside the rules of engagement was used and we have begun to hold accountable those commanding officers who carried out these wrong acts,”