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Open Letter to the U.N. Security Council on Shelter Raids in Iraq

December 2017

U.N. Security Council

United Nations, New York, U.S.A.

Open Letter to the U.N. Security Council


Your Excellencies,

A few weeks ago, an armed group raided a women’s shelter operated by the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), the only Iraqi organization that has stepped up to meet the critical need for shelter for women at risk of violence. Men armed with assault rifles kidnapped a member of their staff and held him for ransom, and forced OWFI to negotiate for his release.

OWFI and other local organizations need protection now for their work meeting the urgent needs of women and girls at risk of violence.

In October 2016, we brought to your attention Iraqi officials’ public acknowledgement to UN human rights experts that OWFI is helping to address the urgent needs of survivors of violence against women by providing shelter and other services. The government made this acknowledgment while still maintaining its anti-shelter stance and harassing OWFI on the ground.[1] This latest attack on OWFI’s shelter raises deep concerns. The Iraqi government’s anti-shelter policy continually places local organizations, and the women and girls who seek their services, in jeopardy of torture or death while undermining the ability of the government to address conflict-related gender-based violence. Furthermore, UN human rights bodies have affirmed the government’s behavior is in violation of international human rights law.[2]

The Security Council’s Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security (IEG) and numerous other international bodies have called for the Government of Iraq to clarify that Iraqi NGOs may indeed “provide much-needed services to survivors of gender-based violence, including shelter.”[3] When DSRSG Lise Grande and representatives of UNAMI and the Iraq Country Team briefed Council members in June, they called attention to the UN’s pledge to continue “to advocate and support the adoption of the Family Protection Act with provisions to allow NGOs to operate shelters for women and other vulnerable individuals fleeing violence.”[4] Ms. Grande went on to recommend that “[i]n the meantime, a government directive providing similar legal coverage for national NGOs and eliminating access barriers, such as the need for a judge order for entry or release into a shelter, is urgent.”

Since our last letter, the situation in Iraq has only become worse. With 11 million people in need of assistance in Iraq and over 3 million internally displaced,[5] the Government of Iraq and international organizations are struggling to meet the increasing demand for humanitarian support. When the Iraqi army retook Mosul thousands of displaced women and girls were freed from ISIS showing signs of both physical and psychological trauma requiring specialized medical care. Despite the clear need for the life-saving services shelters provide to women and girls fleeing gender-based violence - a service local NGOs are ready, willing and able to provide - the Iraqi government has yet to abolish its prohibition on NGO-run shelters, nor provided protection for them.

Providing legal protection to NGO-run shelters would give organizations like OWFI the ability to operate openly and to expand their services and reach more survivors. This would reduce the burden on the government of Iraq to meet the growing need for humanitarian support and shelter. Local organizations are often better equipped to support survivors in areas that are inaccessible to international organizations, and have gained the trust of local communities while building good working relationships with local officials. Many of these local organizations provide additional services to help survivors rebuild their lives and reduce their vulnerability to future violence.

We ask the Security Council, in all its relevant decisions about Iraq, including UNAMI’s mandate, and the Council’s interactions with the Government of Iraq and mission leadership, to:

Call on the government of Iraq to pass the Family Protection Law with a provision clarifying that Iraqi NGOs may provide much-needed shelter and other services to conflict-related gender-based violence survivors, and;

In the immediate term, urge the Government of Iraq to issue a directive providing legal coverage for Iraqi NGOs to operate shelters.

We thank you for your strong commitment and support to remedying violations against women, girls and other marginalized persons affected by the conflict in Iraq and urge you to consider our request. In bringing these concerns to your attention, we are lending our support to, and pledging our future assistance with, any efforts that you undertake to protect the rights of those fleeing conflict-related gender-based violence in Iraq. To this end, we respectfully request that you investigate this matter and take the necessary action to support amending this harmful policy.

Respectfully Submitted,

Iraqi Organizations

The Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI)

International Organizations

*We the undersigned non-governmental organizations are writing to express our support

for Iraqi organizations’ call to clarify the shelter policy that Iraqi NGOs may provide

much-needed shelter and other services to conflict-related gender-based violence survivors.


The Sorensen Center at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law (US)

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) (Switzerland)

Other Supporting Organizations



Secretary General António Guterres,

Lise Grande, Deputy Special Representative,

Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq,

Idah Muema, Women Protection Advisor,

Mmabatlharo Nono Dihemo, Gender advisor, Office of SRSG, UNAMI,

Scott Gracie, Chief Human Rights Office,

Roueida El Hage, Head of Regional Human Rights Office- Erbil UNAMI,


[1] Open Letter to the U.N. Security Council on the Government of Iraq’s Shelter Policy (August 2016); See also, UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, (CESCR) Concluding Observations on the Fourth Periodic Report of Iraq, UN Doc. E/C.12/IRQ/CO/4, ¶ 39 (12 October 2015).

[2]  U.N. Committee Against Torture, Concluding Observations On The Initial Report of Iraq, (Sept. 7, 2015) ¶ 24

U.N. Doc. CAT/C/IRQ/CO/1; CESCR Concluding Observations on the Fourth Periodic Report of Iraq, ¶ 39 U.N. Doc. E/C.12/IRQ/CO/4 (Oct. 12, 2015).

[3] See UN Security Council Informal Experts Group on Women, Peace and Security, “Republic of Iraq” UN Doc. S/2016/683 (29 April 2016).

[4] Security Council Informal Experts Group on Women, Peace and Security: Summary of June 14th Meeting in Iraq U.N. Doc. WPS 2242 (2017).

[5] U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “Iraq,” OCHA, last modified September 2017,