AFP photo of a demonstration in Iraqi’s southern city of Basra to denounce abuses being carried out by ISIS militants against Iraq’s women.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—As the Iraqi parliament reviews the draft of an anti-domestic violence law, activists and rights organizations urge the house to set clear penalties against domestic violence, guarantee protection of victims in the new bill, adding that family reconciliation is no alternative to justice.
One organization that has written a letter to the speaker of Iraq’s parliament on this issue is Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“A strong domestic violence law could help save Iraqi women’s lives,” says HRW’s Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher in a press release. “The Iraqi parliament should make sure the final bill includes essential provisions to prevent domestic violence, protect survivors, and prosecute the abusers.”
The organization finds some strength of the draft bill such as “provisions for services for domestic violence survivors, protection orders (restraining orders) and penalties for their breach, and the establishment of a cross-ministerial committee to combat domestic violence.”
Meanwhile it draws attention to some gaps in the draft that needs addressing by the parliament before passing the law.
“The draft law calls for the parties to be referred to family reconciliation committees and for prosecutions of abusers to be dropped if reconciliation is reached.” HRW says. “But women in Iraq are often under tremendous social and economic pressure to prioritize the family unit over their own protection from violence.”
The report continues that: “United Nations guidance provides that mediation should be prohibited in all cases of violence against women and at all stages of legal proceedings because mediation removes cases from judicial scrutiny. Promoting such reconciliation incorrectly presumes that both parties have equal bargaining power, reflects an assumption that both parties may be equally at fault for violence, and reduces accountability for the offender.”
According to the report released on Sunday, the Iraq Family Health Survey (IFHS) 2006/7 found that one in five Iraqi women are subject to physical domestic violence. “A 2012 Ministry of Planning study found that at least 36 percent of married women reported experiencing some form of psychological abuse from their husbands, 23 percent reported verbal abuse, 6 percent reported physical violence, and 9 percent reported sexual violence. While more recent national studies are not available, women’s rights organizations continue to report a high rate of domestic violence.”
Begum believes that “By promoting family reconciliation as an alternative to justice, the draft law undermines protection for domestic violence survivors. The government should send a message that beating up your wife won’t be treated leniently through mediation sessions, but instead be regarded as a crime.”
The organization puts to the Iraqi government the following recommendations:
· Setting out specific duties for both the general police and specialized police officers in responding to domestic violence.
Police play an important role in responding to domestic violence and can help determine whether a victim is able to pursue remedies through the justice system.
· Outlining various types of evidence that can be considered in domestic violence cases. Attacks tend to happen in homes behind closed doors where often there are no witnesses other than children, who typically cannot testify.
· Distinguishing between short-term emergency orders and longer-term protection orders, including making clear that short-term orders can be issued without all parties present on the basis of a victim’s testimony, whereas a longer-term order would allow for a full hearing and review of evidence.