Iraq unrest: Four anti-government protesters killed
May 26, Beirut: Iraqi security forces fired bullets and teargas canisters at peaceful protesters in Baghdad’s Green Zone on May 20, 2016, killing four people and wounding more than 100. Iraqi authorities should investigate the use of lethal force against the peaceful protesters.
Twelve witnesses from among the protesters told Human Rights Watch that the protesters were unarmed and peaceful when security forces opened fire. Some threw teargas canisters back at security forces or threw rocks after security forces opened fire. Human Rights Watch reviewed footage and photos from the protests, and none showed protesters carrying arms.
The May 20 protest was the most recent in a series of mass demonstrations against government corruption and incompetence that began in July 2015. They escalated in February when the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called for his followers to join, which they did in the tens of thousands. On April 30, protesters for the first time scaled the walls of the Green Zone and briefly occupied the parliament building, causing some damage and roughing up several members of parliament.
Security forces protecting the Green Zone had no legitimate reason to fire on protesters who presented no risk to their lives or others. The government should urgently investigate the killings and order security forces not to use lethal force unless absolutely necessary to save lives.
One protester, Hussein Muhammad Hasan, died from a bullet fragment to the head, according to the death certificate, which Human Rights Watch obtained. A second protester died from two bullet wounds that entered his liver and heart, said a neighbor who spoke to the family when they received the body. The death certificate lists a bullet in the chest as the cause of death. The victim’s family asked HRW not to name him. HRW was not able to obtain the death certificates for Jamal Jalil Novan and Muntadhar al-Hilfi, the other two protesters whom witnesses said were also killed at the demonstration.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that up to 200 protesters were wounded and another 200 subsequently arrested. Human Rights Watch was not able to confirm the number of wounded.
Several protesters who were at the Green Zone entrances said that between 4 and 4:30 p.m., anti-riot police and soldiers from the army’s 56th Brigade opened fire on the protesters without warning. They said the security forces used live ammunition, rubber bullets, teargas canisters, and sound bombs, along with two water trucks parked inside the Green Zone.
Two videos viewed by HRW show several hundred protesters in front of the General Secretariat of the Prime Minister’s Office presenting flowers to army officers tasked with protecting the Green Zone.
Two protesters said that some time later security forces inside the Green Zone opened fire on the protesters in front of the General Secretariat, chasing them out of the Green Zone. The security forces kept shooting at those fleeing and those still gathered outside, and pursued them in various directions, north and also west back across Jumhuriyya Bridge toward Tahrir Square.
Under the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, the authorities should “as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.” The “intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.” The Principles state that, in cases of death or serious injury, appropriate agencies should conduct a review and send a detailed report promptly to competent administrative or prosecutorial authorities.
The government should ensure that arbitrary or abusive use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials is punished as a criminal offense. Superior officers should be held responsible if they knew or should have known that personnel under their command resorted to the unlawful use of force and firearms but did not take all measures in their power to prevent, suppress, or report such use.
The Oslo Times/HRW