Print
SC/14613
25 August 2021
8842nd Meeting (AM)

With Elections Nearing in Iraq, Transparency, Accountability Key to Gaining Public Trust, Assistance Mission Chief Tells Security Council amid Calls for Reforms

Permanent Representative Pledges Voting Process Will Be Free, Fair, as Bagdad Works to Fulfil Promises

With “the clock ticking” on all-important elections in Iraq scheduled for 10 October, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country stressed the importance of a free, inclusive and safe process as she briefed the Security Council today.

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who is also and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), cited both progress and challenges at every level.  She noted advances in candidate lists, ballot‑printing and other election elements, with preparations for United Nations monitoring proceeding apace as the team is mostly deployed to Baghdad.  Meanwhile, the Independent High Electoral Commission is applying lessons learned, improving electoral mechanics — including an independent technology audit, new voter‑verification devices and real-time election results.

However, successful elections are not the sole responsibility of the Electoral Commission and she reminded that all involved must commit to a transparent and credible process — “in words and in deeds”.  With UNAMI stepping up its strategic communication efforts to inform Iraqi voters, she emphasized the need for truth and accuracy.  She called for all stakeholders to stick to facts and responsibilities, refraining from using the United Nations as a scapegoat, and for media outlets to provide accurate, reliable and timely information.  Despite understandable long-standing and widespread suspicions about the process, she stressed that participation by the Iraqi people is paramount.  “By not voting, you place yourself outside the electoral process, gifting your silence to those you may disagree with,” she stressed.

With the country in desperate need of deep structural reforms, she urged authorities and political actors not to let the Iraqi people down — halting intimidation, abductions and assassinations.  “Understand that accountability is key to restore public trust,” she stressed.  On the issue of missing Kuwaiti, third-country nationals and Kuwaiti property, she noted that Kuwait conclusively identified the remains of a further 10 individuals from its list of those missing since 1991.  With a total of 30 cases of missing persons formally closed since November 2020, she expressed hope that “this important step will bring some closure to the families”.

In the ensuing debate, all Council delegates echoed and emphasized the definitive importance of the elections for a safe and prosperous future Iraq.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines hailed a “flagship moment” for people to exercise their rights.  Kenya’s delegate stressed that the process must be safeguarded from intimidation, warning that political activists must not be targeted and that perpetrators must be held to account.  On that point, the United States representative pressed authorities to “take all measures” to protect the election monitoring team.  The representative of India, Council President for August, said in his national capacity that a free and credible election conducted in a safe environment with high voter turnout will empower the new Government to implement reforms and meet its people’s aspirations.

However, speakers recalled that Iraq remains an unstable country facing threats from terrorism, including the bombing of a Baghdad market on 19 July.  The Russian Federation’s delegate, citing a host of problems accrued over years, said “it is simply impossible to solve them all overnight”.  She called for broad coordination of counter‑terrorism efforts, respecting the sovereignty of the country as “Iraq should not become an arena for score-settling”.  Norway’s representative expressed concern about Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), but nonetheless welcomed signs of judicial progress, including passage of the Yazidi Female Survivors Law.  Ireland’s delegate welcomed in Iraq’s recently launched five-year human rights plan, but expressed concern that civil rights are actually shrinking and that accountability remains limited.  Meanwhile, Tunisia’s delegate pointed to the issue of internal displacement, with 1.2 million people still living in camps, urging Iraq’s authorities to ensure their return to places of origin.

The representative of Iraq affirmed that the Government is working to fulfil promises to its people — with an early, free and fair election process, as well as tackling the manifold tremendous challenges of combating terror and COVID-19 and instituting economic reforms.  An investigative team is addressing human rights violations, and authorities are working to establish the rule of law and bring weapons under State control.

He thanked the Council for its solidarity in condemning the cowardly 19 July attack in Baghdad and called on all actors to respect State sovereignty.  Turning to Kuwait, he cited a disbursement of $600 million in compensation on 27 July and welcomed reports on identified missing persons, with the remains of 28 of 69 handed over since August 2019.

Also speaking were the representatives of Niger, Mexico, Viet Nam, France, Estonia, United Kingdom and China.

The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 11:41 a.m.

Briefing

JEANINE HENNIS-PLASSCHAERT, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), said the “clock is ticking” for Iraq’s all-important elections on 10 October.  Citing several complex milestones in the process, she said UNAMI continues to provide technical assistance, with five times as many United Nations personnel currently engaged as in the 2018 elections.  Progress has been made on candidate lists, ballot‑printing, polling‑day simulations and recruitment of polling staff, with rapidly moving preparations for United Nations monitoring and most members of the preparatory team now being deployed to Baghdad.  She noted that UNAMI is stepping up its strategic communication efforts to inform Iraqi voters.  Addressing questions of how these elections will differ from those in 2018, she agreed that lack of trust in public authorities and institutions is long-standing and widespread.

To that end, she said the Independent High Electoral Commission is applying lessons learned, with significant improvements in electoral processes including an independent information technology audit, new voter verification devices, measures to tackle misuse of electronic voting cards, and displaying election results in real time.  However, as successful elections are not the sole responsibility of that Commission, she called on all stakeholders to commit to a transparent and credible process — “in words and in deeds”.  Fear of electoral fraud being expressed by Iraqi citizens and political parties is well understood, but she emphasized that the political parties themselves can “make or break” the elections by refraining from forcing or distorting election results, buying loyalties, suppressing votes or taking other illegal actions.

Stressing that stakeholders must stick to the facts, focus on their roles and responsibilities and refrain from using the United Nations as a scapegoat, she called on all media outlets to provide accurate, reliable and timely information to the Iraqi people, instead of fueling false perceptions to suit their backers.  Noting that Iraq leads and owns the October elections, she urged authorities to “stop blaming others for things of your own doing” and acknowledge that the credibility of the process will prove essential for Iraq’s future.  A boycott is not an effective strategy, as “a vote not cast, is in fact a gift to those you may be opposed to”, she said.  “By not voting, you place yourself outside the electoral process, gifting your silence to those you may disagree with.”

She said Iraq is desperately in need of deep, structural reforms, which require unwavering determination, immense patience and lots of time.  She urged authorities, officials, political parties and candidates not to let the Iraqi people down — halting intimidation, abductions and assassinations.  “Understand that accountability is key to restore public trust,” she stressed.  She turned to a progress report on the issue of missing Kuwaiti, third-country nationals and Kuwaiti property including the national archives, noting that Kuwait conclusively identified the remains of a further 10 individuals from its list of those missing since 1991.  With a total of 30 cases of missing persons formally closed since November 2020, she expressed hope that “this important step will bring some closure to the families”.

Statements

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), reaffirming her country’s commitment to a stable, democratic and prosperous Iraq, said the new chapter of the partnership between the two countries will include a broad spectrum of bilateral issues, including economic development and climate adaptation.  “This is the assistance Iraqis tell us they want, and we know we are uniquely positioned to help with this,” she said, noting that the United States will be donating 500,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses to the country.  The security relationship will transition to a “training, advising, assisting and intelligence-sharing role,” she said, adding that there will be no United States forces with a combat role in Iraq by 31 December.  The “defeat ISIS mission” is still ongoing, she said, also praising Iraq’s efforts to prepare for free and fair elections and expressing gratitude to allies for contributing to funding the election monitoring team.  The Government of Iraq must take all measures to protect the election monitoring team, the European Union’s observers and domestic risk monitors deploying throughout the country to deter election fraud.  Calling for judicial accountability for the militia killings of civil society actors, she applauded the Mission’s work to document human rights abuses and violations.

AOUGUI NIANDOU (Niger) underscored the essential need for international cooperation in addressing the multiple challenges facing Iraq.  Citing reports of continued arrests, violence and intimidation against demonstrators, civil society activists, human rights defenders and journalists, he reiterated his call on the Government to protect and guarantee the fundamental rights of all such groups.  He reiterated his delegation’s support for ensuring the conduct of free, fair, inclusive and credible elections.  He went on to commend the Governments of Iraq and Kuwait for the significant progress made over the past year on the issue of missing persons, property and archives from Kuwait and third countries.   He expressed regret over the recent terrorist attacks in Baghdad committed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), calling on Iraq and the international coalition to remain vigilant in the fight against terrorism.

ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico), extending condolences to the victims of the 19 July terrorist attacks, welcomed the efforts of the Iraq Government and the Mission to continue preparations for the elections.  The holding of free and transparent elections is a fundamental pillar in the building of a democratic State, she stressed, highlighting the growing participation of women in the upcoming polls.  Lauding the progress made in institutional capacity‑building, as well as economic reforms, she voiced concern about continued demonstrator suppression.  The Government must protect the rights to freedom of expression and association, she stressed, condemning forced disappearances and harassment of journalists and human rights activists.  Also condemning ISIL/Da’esh attacks against civilians and diplomatic targets, she said Baghdad must ensure a safe environment for election monitors, observer missions and candidates.

DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam), underscoring the importance of ensuring a secure electoral process, said violence against candidates could jeopardize the credibility and legitimacy of any institutions established following the vote.  He therefore called on parties to tackle security concerns in the lead-up to the polls.  More broadly, he called on Iraq and international partners alike to strengthen their efforts to ensure the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return or settlement of internally displaced persons, and to avoid a crisis of secondary displacement.  He went on to note that last week marked the eighteenth anniversary of the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, which killed 22 humanitarian workers, urging the Government and those in power around the world to strengthen the safety of aid workers.  He commended the efforts by Iraq and Kuwait in the search for missing Kuwaiti and third-country nationals and the return of Kuwaiti property, reaffirming support for UNAMI and United Nations humanitarian efforts.

ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation), noting that the situation in Iraq remains unstable, noted the sharp decrease in State revenue because of a fall in global oil prices, as well as the ongoing pandemic.  Voicing support for the Government’s efforts to stabilize the situation, she added that, over the years, a whole host of problems has accrued and “it's simply impossible to solve them all overnight”.  Iraq has had to recover following the events of 2003 and the subsequent battle against terrorists, she said, noting the progress in preparations for the electoral process.  Highlighting the fragile security situation, she voiced concern about the increasing activity of terrorist underground groups.  Calling for a broad coordination of counter‑terrorism efforts, she said all those involved in the fight against terrorism must respect the sovereignty of the country.  “Iraq should not become an arena for score‑settling,” she insisted, calling on external players to refrain from unilateral destructive steps.

NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) expressed support for Iraq as it reaffirms its essential role for stability and security in the region, requiring a sovereign country with control over internal armed groups.  With ISIL/Da’esh still active, she called for the international coalition to offer its support, and to respond to the legitimate electoral concerns of the Iraqi population, especially since the October 2019 protests.  Welcoming the broad responsibilities conferred upon UNAMI, she noted that France has contributed €1 million to the electoral fund, as it is crucial to ensure high voter participation, requiring a peaceful climate and the safety of candidates.  Reforms are essential, as Iraq must move away from its dependence on oil, fight corruption, protect health services and ensure that crimes do not go unpunished.  She cited progress on the issue of Kuwaiti and third‑country nationals, including identification of 10 individuals completed in July.

TRINE HEIMERBACK (Norway) said free, fair and transparent elections with broad participation ‑ including by those internally displaced ‑ are vital for the integrity of the electoral process.  She urged all Iraqi stakeholders to foster a conducive environment, commending the June launch of the workplan to promote and monitor women’s participation.  It is essential to ensure the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly, she continued, condemning targeted attacks against Iraqi protestors, human rights defenders, activists and journalists, and reiterating the call on Iraq to both investigate such events and hold perpetrators accountable.  Expressing concern about ISIL/Da’esh terrorist activities, notably the 19 July attack in Baghdad, she nonetheless welcomed signs of judicial progress, including passage of the Yazidi Female Survivors Law.  Regional and transnational threats and disputes — including environmental issues — should be addressed based on the principle of good‑neighbourly relations and with respect for the territorial sovereignty of the States in question.  In that context, she urged Iraq and the Kurdistan regional government to further develop dialogue to resolve outstanding issues, similarly calling for broader security cooperation in disputed territories and implementation of the Sinjar agreement.

SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), voicing appreciation for the Government’s commitment to holding free and fair elections, said that an inclusive and participatory democratic process is crucial to restore public trust in the system.  Welcoming the launch of the plan to ensure women’s participation in the elections, he applauded the Government for making progress in economic reforms, as well as in the fight against corruption.  Drawing attention to the threats faced by demonstrators and political activists, he called on the authorities to ensure accountability, in particular with the full implementation of the Yazidi Female Survivor Law.  The fight against ISIL/Da’esh is not over, he said, adding that all actors must respect the sovereignty of Iraq and refrain from any limitary action. He also welcomed Iraq’s constructive engagement with its neighbors, as well as on the issue of irregular crossings of migrants to the European Union.

ISIS GONSALVES (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), welcoming the Government’s commitment to conducting free and just elections, said the Mission’s deployment of additional electoral advisers will contribute to the integrity of the electoral process.  The elections will be a flagship moment for the people of Iraq to exercise their rights, she said, stressing that the involvement of women in elections and in the Government will help shape an inclusive and prosperous country.  Also calling on the authorities to ensure that violators of human rights are held accountable, she voiced concern that attacks by ISIL/Da’esh continue to result in civilian casualties and recalled the adoption of the milestone Yazidi Female Survivors Law.  Further, she emphasized, a collaborative regional approach to challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and terrorism, is indispensable to regional peace, security and sustainable development.

MICHAEL KIBOINO (Kenya) commended Iraq for its electoral progress, and the collaborative efforts of the Independent High Electoral Commission, the Supreme Electoral Security Committee, governorate officials and other stakeholders.  Elections must not only be free and transparent, he stated, but free from intimidation and boycotts, with every effort made to attract the widest possible participation.  In particular, he stressed that the targeting of political activists must be prevented, with those responsible held to account.  Condemning continued attacks by ISIL/Da’esh in several governorates, he hailed Iraqi security forces’ continued counter-terrorism operations, and called for coordinated regional and international support to promote security and stability through cooperative bilateral and multilateral approaches.  Iraq should be protected from becoming an international arena for States and non-State actors to settle scores, he said, which is detrimental to the security, political stability and socioeconomic progress of the country and its people.

SONIA FERRY (United Kingdom), noting the critical role of the October elections in ensuring Iraq’s stability, voiced support for the electoral preparations.  However, she noted with concern reports of continued threats and violence against candidates and activists.  The Mission and the Government must make every effort to boost turnout and bolster credibility, she said, calling on all stakeholders to redouble their efforts for a peaceful electoral process in which all Iraqis participate without fear.  Also voicing concern about the humanitarian situation, especially that of the displaced Iraqis, she said the Government must ensure that all internally displaced people can access services and return in a dignified manner.

GENG SHUANG (China) stressed that the international community should continue to support Iraq in advancing its domestic political process.  Elections in October will mark a crucial step forward in its political transition, he said, noting China’s two recent shipments of office supplies, and its support to both the Government and the Kurdish regional government in improving their relationship and coordination.  He urged the international community to continue to assist Iraq in combating terrorism and maintaining security and stability, drawing attention to the surge of terror attacks in the country since January.  Emphasizing the importance of good relations between neighboring countries in addressing transnational threats, he welcomed joint efforts by Iraq and Kuwait on the issue of missing Kuwaiti personnel and properties.  He also called for continued efforts in the fight against COVID-19 and the drive towards a speedy recovery, adding that China was among the first countries to provide necessary medical supplies.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland), extending condolences to victims of recent terrorist attacks, said such incidents highlight the volatile situation that persists across Iraq.  Reiterating support for Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, she stressed that women and minorities must be included in the electoral process, and welcomed the work of the higher committee to monitor and promote women’s meaningful participation in that context.  Echoing the Special Representative’s call to the Iraqi people to come out on election day and exercise their rights, she said a vibrant civil society is vital to democracy.  Further, she said any national effort to promote human rights must incorporate international human rights obligations.  While welcoming in that regard, Iraq’s recently launched, five-year human rights plan, she noted with concern that civil rights are shrinking on the ground while accountability remains limited.

TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) cited Government efforts in fighting corruption, enacting economic reforms and establishing security.  He called for carrying out electoral preparations in a calm and transparent environment, which can open a new chapter of political stability, commending measures to promote women’s participation in the process.  The international community must support successful, credible elections, paving the way for a future safeguarded by the rule of law and guaranteeing welfare of the Iraqi people.  Despite the defeat of terrorist groups on ground, they continue to thwart development and spread fear in the country.  Stressing the need to respect Iraq’s sovereignty, he called on the international community to fight transnational threats while respecting territorial integrity.  As the issue of internal displacement remains a challenge, with 1.2 million people still living in camps, he urged authorities to do its utmost to ensure their return to places of origin.

T.S. TIRUMURTI (India), Council President for August, said in his national capacity that a transparent, free and credible election, conducted in a violence‑free environment, with high voter turnout will empower the new Government to implement reforms and meet the genuine aspirations of the Iraqi people.  Noting the financial support extended by various Member States to the Mission and other agencies and welcoming the increasing number of women candidates, he voiced concern about the danger posed by ISIL/Da’esh.  Welcoming the continued international efforts to support Iraq in combating terrorism, he condemned all military action on Iraq’s territory undertaken without the Government’s consent under the pretext of counter-terrorism operations.

SARHAD SARDAR ABDULRAHMAN FATAH (Iraq) said that, despite tremendous challenges, the Government continues to work to fulfil promises to the Iraqi people — preparing early, free and fair elections, maintaining peace and security, combating terror and COVID-19 and instituting economic reforms.  Since its formation, the Government has taken on the task of restoring public trust, listening to Iraqi voices and ensuring freedom of expression.  He cited a new initiative for low-interest loans and a housing project that has already received 3.5 million applications.  Authorities are also establishing an investigative team for human rights violations, working to establish the rule of law and bring weapons under State control.  With a national COVID-19 vaccination campaign launched, he cited assistance from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility and thanked the United States for contributing 500,000 doses.

With terrorism remaining the biggest threat, he thanked the Council for its solidarity in condemning the latest cowardly attack on a market in Baghdad.  Terrorists also threaten development, he noted, attacking power lines and disrupting services.  He called on all actors to refrain from settling scores and respect State sovereignty.  Iraq is committed to supporting victims of terrorism including Yazidi survivors, repatriating Iraqis stranded in a camp in Syria protecting diplomatic missions and their personnel.  The Government is also cooperating with Kuwait to provide all compensations on time, having disbursed $600 million on 27 July.  He welcomed reports on identified missing persons, with the remains of 28 of 69 handed over since August 2019.  As elections are crucial to the reform programme, he thanked the Council for approving the provision of electoral observers, and acknowledged the robust and visible United Nations team.

For information media. Not an official record.