The Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI)
16 August 2018
Iraqi security forces violently broke a peaceful strike in the Huwair sub-district of the Al-Midaina District north of Basra, where the West Qurna oil field 2 is located. Government officers killed a peaceful demonstrator and wounded others, while approximately 20 other nonviolent protesters were arrested. Tension in the city is rising and demonstrators are planning to escalate their protests.
While concrete details about the killing of the peaceful protestor, Harith al-Salami, remain obscure, several witnesses report that he died after being arrested and beaten by the security forces that broke the sit-in.
“Harith’s body is still in Fayha’a hospital and the details of his killing are not clear yet” a report from Alarabi Aljadeed newspaper explains, quoting one of his relatives. But friends say Harith al-Salami was arrested and beaten on the head and that this led directly to his death. A coordinator of the demonstrations in Basra was quoted in the newspaper, saying, “Muzahim Adnan. The city is reaching its boiling point; if it is proven that security forces killed the demonstrator, even more popular demonstrations will be launched. Protestors will not and cannot be stopped by government security.”
The General Federation of Workers’ Unions in Iraq (GFWUI) issued a statement condemning the forceful break of the sit-in and the killing of Harith al-Salami. The union holds security forces responsible for the incident and for the safety of those they have detained.
The Municipality Council of Huwair sub-district (Ezzedine Salim) showed its support for protestors by suspending all official work on Wednesday 15 August. The Baghdad News Agency published a statement from Basma Dakhil al-Selmi, a member of the Basra Provincial Council, in which she announced that she would suspend her membership in the council as a way show solidarity and to protest the killing of the demonstrator. Al-Selmi went on to criticize the Iraqi government for its position which ensures the continuation of oil production without regard to the rights of land owners.
The Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative calls on the Iraqi government to open an urgent investigation into the killing of Harith al-Salami, and to ensure the safety of all detainees arrested in this recent incident.
The failure to ensure fair and transparent accountability for the killing of unarmed and peaceful demonstrators threatens to undermine the very legitimacy of the Iraqi government, and risks triggering an escalation in public anger. The growing gap between the public and the government must be narrowed and an open investigation into this killing is the first step.
This is not the first killing of peaceful protestors in Iraq’s recent history. The Iraqi government still has not announced the measures it will take to determine the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 14 other protesters who were killed in peaceful demonstrations in Basra at the start of the summer this year.
Our initiative urges the United Nations Mission in Iraq and the European Union to approach the Iraqi government, and to remind it of its international commitments to prevent human rights violations. This is especially pressing given the government’s response to the wave of peaceful protests this summer. Transparency and accountability are foundational to all legitimate governments, and those who have committed violations must be held accountable and brought to justice.