Speech of Chief Human Rights Officer to Event on Reconciliation hosted by the Speaker of the Council of Representatives

2 November 2016:
Excellency, Speaker of the Council of Representatives
Member of the Iraqi Parliament
Representatives of Civil Society
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a privilege for me to be here with you today at this event, hosted by the Speaker of the Council of Representatives, Dr Salim Al Jbouri. Community and national reconciliation are among the most significant challenges facing Iraq – processes that are fundamental to breaking the endless cycles of violence, conflict and terrorism that the people of Iraq have endured for over a decade now.

Everyone, or nearly everyone, enjoys a game of football. Every week people go to stadiums to watch their favourite teams play, or support their favourite teams by watching them play on the television. Ostensibly it is the same game every week – a ball is kicked around a piece of grass for 90 minutes – yet people turn out to support their teams week, after week, after week. When we watch a football game there are a few things that we notice. Firstly, there is always more than one team playing the game. Secondly, the field is a defined piece of land that is flat and of set proportions. Thirdly, despite the fact that ostensibly it is the same event every week, each game is different – dependent on the skill of the players, the way the game plays out, the scores, and the way all the players interact – these aspects are always different and it is this that makes football an exciting and interesting game every time it is played. But overall, and most pertinently, the rules that govern the game are the same and are
applied equally to all the players; all the players respect the rules or suffer the consequences, and all players respect and trust each other. Without this, the game would be nothing but disorder and chaos.

In many ways Iraq, or any country, is like a football match. On this large grassy playing field that we call Iraq, there is more than one team playing (after all, no one wants to watch a football game where only one team is playing!), and the rules of the game are provided by the law and respect for human rights – because it is this that makes all players, Iraq’s people, equal and ensures their equal access to the resources and opportunities that are available. Just as in a football game, all citizens should be equal and should treated as such under the rules. To ensure the rules of the game are respected there is a referee – and in Iraq the courts and state institutions have this role – to ensure that there is fairness, equality, and justice for all the people of Iraq.

Given the decades of human rights violations, abuses and crimes that all the people of Iraq have been subjected, trust between individuals and communities has been eroded. Communities have been ripped apart and lives destroyed. The country is still in a conflict with an evil terrorist organization that brings nothing but death and destruction – and it is fundamental that all efforts are brought to bear by Iraq and the international community to ensure that ISIL is defeated and destroyed root and branch. We should take time to remember the Iraqi men and women of the security forces who are defending their homes, communities and country in this conflict, and those who have laid down their lives for the sake of the liberty of their fellow citizens.

However, the inevitable destruction of the Da’esh is not the end of the story – it is just the beginning. The challenge will be how we can work together to rebuild trust between all Iraq’s communities – to finally break the cycle of abuses and violations, death and destruction that the people of Iraq have endured. We believe firmly that the answer lay in dialogue – a dialogue that will not only take place within communities – to identify those issues that are important to them that will need to be addressed – but between communities. Such dialogues must centre on those shared interests that each community have - the protection of their human rights and ways to enhance the respect for the rule of law – the framework that will ensure all Iraq’s people can equally share in the political, economic and social life of this country and help forge a common identity, as Iraqis, based on those shared interests, rights and privileges.

Accordingly, it is essential for true community reconciliation that a number of challenges be discussed in an inclusive manner, and mutually beneficial and agreed solutions found. These issues should include the need to guarantee security for all Iraq’s people; the obligation to ensure justice for victims of crimes, violations and abuses and accountability for the perpetrators (no matter when, where or by whom such abuses have been committed); equal access to basic services such as water, electricity, healthcare, housing, education and economic opportunity; a truly inclusive political dialogue aimed at respecting and protection the rights of all Iraq’s people; and other processes to bring greater healing and to rebuild trust between communities.

Mark my words, the process of community reconciliation will not be easy and the challenges are great – To break these cycles of violence will require us to put aside our own self interests in favour of the interests of the Iraqi people as a whole. But if our efforts are not built on the respect for human rights and the rule of law, they will be doomed to fail. And fail we can not! To do so would be to condemn the men, women and children of Iraq to more bloodshed, pain, suffering and destruction. And one must ask, how much more blood must the soil of Iraq soak up before this pointless destruction is to end?

As Abraham Lincoln, a former US president once said, a house divided among itself cannot stand. But Together, and with the support of the United Nations and the international community, I believe that the people of Iraq can surmount these challenges, and come together in true reconciliation to ensure that Iraq becomes the democratic, inclusive state built on the rule of law and respect for human rights that will ensure the full and equal participation of all its people in the political economic and social life of the country without discrimination. This is the future that all Iraq’s people deserve.

I wish you luck in your discussions here today – and I once more thank the Speaker of the Council of Representatives for this initiative.


END

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