Despite the unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Iraq, outside of Kurdistan it remains against the law for Iraqi NGOs to provide shelter to those escaping gender-based violence. This prohibition prevents survivors from accessing life-saving services, particularly in areas beyond the reach of international humanitarian actors.
In continuation of our campaign to amend Iraq's NGO shelter policy, MADRE and our Iraqi partner, the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), sent a letter to Lise Grande, the Deputy Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI). We drew attention to OWFI's efforts to provide shelter to women and girls fleeing gender-based violence in central and southern Iraq, despite the government's prohibition of NGO-run shelters. We further called for UNAMI to urge the Government of Iraq to adopt the Family Protection Law, which would allow NGOs to operate shelters. While the law is under consideration, we have requested a government directive that provides legal coverage to NGOs that provide shelter.
Last year, MADRE initiated an open letter to the UN Security Council, signed by over 70 Iraqi human rights organizations and over 20 prominent Iraqi leaders, calling for an official government directive clarifying that Iraqi organizations may provide shelter. MADRE and OWFI presented the letter to UN Security Council members and other interested states in October 2016. MADRE also circulated the open letter to key UN entities including UNAMI.
As a result, the UN Security Council Informal Experts Group on Women, Peace, and Security formally supported the call and recommended that the Security Council urge Iraq's government to amend its shelter policy. OWFI has also submitted recommendations on the Family Protection Draft Law, which include clarifying that Iraqi NGOs can provide shelter.
The support from the UN Security Council and the inclusion of OWFI's recommendations are significant wins in our multi-year campaign to amend Iraq's NGO shelter policy, bringing us closer than ever to realizing this demand.
Letter to UNAMI
July 20, 2017Lise Grande Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq UN Assistance Mission to Iraq
CC: Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of Secretary-General for Iraq, and Head of UNAMI Scott Gracie, Head of the Human Rights Office, Idah Muema, Senior Women Protection Advisor, Mmabatlharo Dihemo, Gender Advisor
Dear Ms. Grande,
We are writing to express our gratitude for raising concerns about the Government of Iraq’s practice of prohibiting Iraqi NGOs from legally providing shelter to women and other marginalized persons fleeing conflict-related gender-based violence.
As noted in your June 14th report to the UN Security Council at the third meeting of the Informal Experts Group on Women, Peace and Security (UNSC IEG) on the situation in Iraq, despite the unprecedented displacement crisis, outside of the Kurdistan region it remains against public policy for Iraqi NGOs to provide shelter for women and others at risk of violence. UNAMI’s report also states that there are currently no shelters in operation through central and southern Iraq. The report does not make clear whether this is referring to NGO-run shelters, governmentrun shelters or both.
While government-run shelters remain empty and unstaffed, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) is providing shelter to women fleeing gender-based violence in central and southern Iraq, despite the government’s prohibition. Currently, OWFI provides direct services to over 75 women and their children through its shelters and safe houses.
OWFI’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by central government authorities. Despite officials’ continued endorsement of the anti-shelter policy, the Iraqi government also recognizes its reliance on local NGOs to help provide services to survivors of gender-based violence in light of the current conflict. For example, in the fall of 2015, when asked about the availability of shelter by the UN Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) Committee, government representatives responded that OWFI is helping to meet the needs of survivors in central and southern Iraq1. These officials explained that OWFI is taking measures to address the sharp rise in violence against women by providing survivors with comprehensive services, including shelter. Thus, in this international setting, Iraqi officials passed off their obligation to ensure shelter for survivors to local NGOs, while on the ground, authorities continue to harass and hamper local organizations providing such services in areas where they lack operating agreements with local authorities.
In an open letter to the Iraqi government in August of 2016, over 70 Iraqi organizations and several prominent Iraqi individuals called for an official government directive clarifying that Iraqi organizations may provide shelter2. MADRE and OWFI presented the letter at a briefing with members of the UNSC IEG and other interested states in October of 2016, in advance of its second review of Iraq. MADRE also circulated the open letter to key UN entities including UNAMI. Following its review of Iraq, the UNSC IEG referenced this letter in its second report and recommendations on Iraq to the UN Security Council3. Notably, the IEG called on the UN Security Council to urge the Government of Iraq to allow local NGOs-run shelters.
As you know, upon UNAMI’s invitation, OWFI submitted recommendations on the draft Family Protection Law, which include clarifying the provision of shelter may be administered by Iraqi NGOs. In December 2016, the UN Permanent Representatives of Spain and the United Kingdom, co-chairs of the UNSC IEG, issued a letter addressed to the UN Secretary-General reiterating support for NGO-run shelters, recalling that advocates from Baghdad, Erbil and New York have explained that the delays in adopting the “Family Protection Law” are affecting the ability of local NGOs to operate shelters and provide life-saving services4.
We are grateful for your support of this amendment to the draft law, and in the immediate, calling for government clarification. We hope that you will keep us informed on the progress in obtaining a government decree clarifying that Iraqi NGOs may indeed provide shelter and on the pending law’s passage.
Thank you again for your strong commitment and support for protecting women, girls and other marginalized persons made vulnerable by the armed conflict. If you would like any additional information please do not hesitate to let us know.
[1.] The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Concluding Observations on the Fourth Periodic Report of Iraq, ¶ 39, UN Doc. E/C.12/IRQ/CO/4 (Oct. 12, 2015).
[2.] Open Letter to the UN Security Council on the Government of Iraq’s NGO Shelter Policy, https://www.madre.org/press-publications/human-rights-report/open-letter...
[3.] UN Security Council Informal Experts Group on Women, Peace and Security Republic of Iraq, “Update on Women, Peace and Security in Iraq” (October 2016).
[4.] UN Security Council, “Letter dated 22 December 2016 from the Permanent Representatives of Spain and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General” UN Doc. S/2016/1104 (27 December 2016).