The Iraqi organization “Masarat” and Sa’ad Salloum released a new report on minorities in Iraq. The report “Violence Against Minorities in Iraq” examines discrimination perpetrated against minorities in Iraq — including Yazidis, Mandaeans, Turkmen, Christians, Kaka’is, Baha’is, Faili Kurds, Shabak, Jews, and Iraqis of African descent. While it acknowledges the fact that minorities in Iraq have suffered enormously since the US-led invasion and the rise of Daesh, this report seeks to expose the way in which discrimination and abuse have deeper historical roots, based on minorities’: ‘small demographic size, their weak participation in public life along with their ethnic,religious, and linguistic differences, which marginalize…[additionally] pre-conceptions, stereotypes, and social stigmatization’. The aim of the report is to explore the experiences of specific minority groups to draw out and analyze those general factors which lead to violence against them,. With these better understood, the report aims to lay out policies which can diffuse bias and prejudice, and recommend a program for positive change.
In acknowledging the widespread problem of violence against minorities, the report examines the role of the state, specifically whether it takes enough care to protect Iraq’s most vulnerable groups. While the report finds that most discrimination comes from non-governmental actors (usually tribal groups), a weak Iraqi state also plays a significant role in the persecution and suffering of minorities. Though the Iraqi constitution declares certain rights for minorities, the government does not fulfill the equally important task of actively protecting those rights already codified in law. Rights granted without government protection is mere rhetoric — in this case, rhetoric that has led to massive oppression and violence, including genocide.
The body of the report is divided into four sections: the first analyses some of the primary factors that lead to violence against minorities. It identifies six, the first being weak rule of law and a lack of good governance. This factor is particularly important as it becomes the foundation for further oppression and abuse. The vacuum created by weak state is quickly filled by biased non-state actors. With no state power to check them, these discriminatory groups can act on stereotypes with impunity: what begins as hate speech can quickly become violent action if there is no state authority to intervene. In short, as confidence in the Iraqi government decreases, so too do order and rule of law. Without these in place, minorities increasingly suffer at the hands of biased and prejudicial groups.
Further, a weak government provides virtually no institutional support or legislation minorities might use to defend themselves. And as minority groups are often the poorest segment of society, they have limited access to education and basic goods needed for survival. This in turn cuts them off from participation in the broader communities in which they live, and effectively excludes them from representation in government. With so little integration into civil society, and no voice in government, the indigent conditions — and sometimes the very existence — of minorities can be ignored by those in power, both in and outside government. Extreme poverty and the isolation it engenders prompts more misconceptions about minority communities, and these misconceptions then perpetuate the cycle of discrimination and exclusion.
After acknowledging the way a weak Iraqi state passively supports violence against minorities, the second section looks at the way violence is also actively fueled by the state. Direct discrimination by the Iraqi government then legitimates discrimination by non-state actors. For instance, the abuse of Yazidis and Christians in Baghdad by government officials and state employees effectively gave the green light for non-state actors (tribes, armed militias, clerics) to commit similar and even worse violations.
The third section moves from identification of the problem to positive recommendations for addressing and resolving it. Its focus is capacity building: on the part of the state itself to protect actively and rigorously the rights of minorities through clear and accessible legislation, consistent monitoring and punishment of discriminatory action, better representation of minority groups in government, state funded education and training, etc.; on the part of minorities, to be empowered to defend themselves, and to become more independent with a recognized role in both civil society and government alike; on the part of tribes to ensure that minority groups do not continue to be involved in traditional practices which render them powerless and at the mercy of larger tribal groups; on the part of an imagined kinship where connections and communication between minorities and other groups in Iraq might be fostered through rituals and activities that cultivate trust and solidarity. Finally, this section encourages methods of further community building, in the form of an established public space for informal dialogue between groups and conflict resolution.
The fourth sections explores the way in which risk should be assessed, and the kinds of early warning systems that should be in place to help avoid further violence. It encourages meticulous data collection, open dialogue among groups, and close consideration of effective and ineffective policies used by other countries who struggle with collective violence. This section explores the various facets of effective warning systems and early intervention, stressing that accurate information, though crucial to stopping violence, is insufficient. Information must not only be relayed to those who have the authority to act, but also to those who have will and ability to act swiftly on the information received.
Finally, the report presents its conclusions and recommendations. Here it highlights the need for the Iraqi government to conform to and uphold recognized international standards on the protection of minorities. It suggests that capacities must be built to prevent and resolve conflict, and that the state must hold those who persecute accountable for their actions. Security forces must be available in times of crisis, but must always be used with restraint and sensitivity, and the hate speech that often precedes such crises should be monitored and analyzed by state and non state actors alike. Active support should be given to those non-state actors who work to improve community relations through nonviolent means. New media, cultural festivals, academic conferences, the optimism of Iraqi youth, and the influence of religious leaders should all be drawn on to bring Iraqis together.