For information only - not an official document.
Press Release No:  UNIS/WOM/482
Release Date:   15 June 2000
Women's Anti-Discrimination Committee Takes Up
Second, Third Periodic Reports of Iraq

NEW YORK, 14 June (UN Headquarters) -- The representative of Iraq introduced her country’s second and third periodic reports on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women this morning, highlighting for the monitoring body the effect on Iraq’s women and children of the 10-year economic embargo placed on her country.

Speaking to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Mona Kammas, of Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education, said that, while Iraq did not claim to be ideal in its application of the Convention, an objective view of its circumstances would help reveal the challenges that obstructed implementation.  Iraq had been plagued by the gravest violations of its territorial sovereignty, including its air space.  The air raids carried out by the United States and the United Kingdom had led to the death of hundreds of innocent civilians and destroyed important infrastructure.

While Iraq had demonstrated its political will to adhere to the Convention, she added, the lack of resources and international cooperation had affected Iraq’s implementation.  The daily bombardment by the United States and the United Kingdom also had negative implications for women’s health, having resulted in increased cases of psychological disorders, as well as various kinds of cancer.  Children also suffered from depression, the inability to concentrate, and anxiety over the loss of friends and family members.

She concluded by saying that the need to survive had led to changing priorities in the programmes for the promotion of women.  Unfortunately, women’s programmes came second to the rights of survival. 

Regarding women’s participation in political life, Eman Naji Al-Azzawi, an Iraqi international law expert, said that the leadership of the Socialist Baath Party –- the largest party in Iraq –- sought to widen the occupation of female leadership positions by including quotas for women and the young.  It also sought to include women’s leadership in the hierarchy of the Party, which had resulted in a marked increase in the number of women in the Party after the 1999 elections. Strategies to advance the status of women was a part of the renaissance of Iraqi society as a whole, she added. 

Following the reports’ introduction, comments and questions were posed by Committee members.  Several experts affirmed their objectivity in assessing the situation in Iraq, but felt that the conditions caused by the embargo were no excuse for failing to implement the provisions of the Convention.  In fact, persistent adverse conditions probably presented the best possible time to reaffirm the human rights of those who were most adversely affected. 

Another expert drew attention to the major concern of the health of women and children of Iraq.  Although the “oil-for-food” programme targeted funds to be used expressly for health and nutrition, the health situation and infant-and- maternal mortality rates were still deteriorating.  Was there a mechanism within the Government to ensure that those funds were not diverted for other purposes? she asked.

 The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to hear further comments and questions by the experts.

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to begin its consideration of the second and third periodic reports of Iraq (document CEDAW/C/IRAQ/2-3) submitted under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  That article provides for States parties to submit reports on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention.  Iraq ratified the Convention in June 1986.

The report says at the outset that it is difficult to speak of Iraq's implementation of the Convention in isolation from the circumstances in which it finds itself.  In August 1990, the Security Council imposed economic sanctions on Iraq, including a full trade embargo.  Although Iraq has taken numerous steps for the advancement of women, the embargo has adversely affected women on both the personal and academic levels.  One measure the country has taken to assist women has been the adoption of a national strategy for the purpose and the formation of a High-Level National Committee for the Advancement of Iraqi women.  
On article 1 of the Convention (discrimination), the report says that throughout Iraq's history women have been accorded special consideration to strengthen their role in society, safeguard their dignity and protect their rights.  The results of a 1998 census showed that 48.6 per cent of Iraq's population was female.  Discrimination against women, therefore, is not in the interests of social development and impedes the implementation of development plans.  

According to the report, Iraq's national strategy for women focuses on addressing women's issues by striking a balance between rights and duties.  The strategy also stresses the complementarity of roles among the different elements of the community and the cohesion of the family as the basic unit of society.  The other institution concerned with women's rights is the General Federation of Iraqi Women, which was established in 1972.  The Federation is a public-interest institution that is a legal entity having full legal capacity and enjoying administrative and financial independence.  It is a mass, democratic organization representing all Iraqi women without discrimination. 

On article 5 of the Convention (stereotyping), the report says that women in modern Iraq, especially after the revolution of 1968, have achieved great progress with regard to their entry into all fields of employment and of political life.  Women in Iraq have every possible opportunity to develop their academic, cultural and personal capacities and to equip themselves to rise to the highest offices and posts.  Working women are granted one-year paid maternity leave and extend that leave to care for their children.  They are also entitled to one hour a day to nurse their infants while at work.  Day-care centres and kindergartens are available in all residential areas and places of work, and special medical and mother-and-child care services are found in even the remotest areas.  

The report states that the physical destruction and human suffering caused by military aggression over the last two decades, however, increased the burdens of Iraqi women and left psychological, physical and social imprint on them.  The comprehensive embargo has perpetuated the suffering of women, and greatly diminished their contributions to public life.  It has also undermined their achievements and the progress they had made in academic, occupational, social and economic terms.  The adverse impact on women's physical and mental health of the embargo is clear from the daily suffering caused by a shortage of food and medicine and the lack of humanitarian supplies needed by families and by women in particular.  

On article 7 of the Convention, the report goes on to say that the political rights of Iraqi women have not been affected and they continue to participate in all elections and referenda and in the formulation and implementation of government policy.  Any decrease in the role of women is due to the embargo and to their need to shoulder the responsibility for the household.  Women participate in the formulation and implementation of policy, hold public office in government ministries and official institutions, and they occupy a significant number of government posts.  

On the issue of education (article 10), the report states that education is compulsory and free of charge for both girls and boys from ages six to 10.  Girls are free to leave school thereafter with the approval of their parents or guardians.  The State does not discriminate between the sexes in its policy with respect to admission to the education or advanced studies.  In 1997, the percentage of girls in elementary school was 44.2 per cent.  Girls accounted for 39 per cent of enrolment in secondary school in the same year.  The reason for the lower figure for secondary schools is that girls at this educational level are considered old enough to leave school, particularly in the countryside where early marriage is common and girls work in the rural household.  Also, because of the embargo, a large number of girls have been forced to discontinue their education.  At the university level, in 1996 women represented 40.4 per cent of student enrolment.  

Regarding equal employment opportunities (article 11), the report says that a labour code, which was enacted after the entry into force of the Convention, contains important provisions concerning labour rights for women working in the private, mixed and cooperative sectors.  Among other things, the labour code stipulates that women may not be employed to perform hard labour or tasks that are harmful to health.  Working mothers are entitled to childbearing leave with full pay for 72 days, which may be extended by competent medical authorities to nine months in the case of a difficult pregnancy, pre- or post-natal complications.   The report explains that because of the embargo, employers have been allowed certain flexibility in matters of labour relations and this also affects the enactments for the equality of women in the private sector.  The participation of women in industry has increased from 17 per cent in 1987 to 21 per cent in 1995.  

On article 12 of the Convention (health care), the report goes on to say that the Ministry of Health has established a system of universal primary health care.  Mother-and-child health-care services are located at 900 primary health- care centres throughout the country.  However, the health of both mothers and children has been adversely affected by the embargo.  The post-neonatal mortality rate has increased since the embargo from 25 to 92.7 per 1,000 live births.  The under-five mortality rate has also increased from 52 to 128 per 1,000 live births.  Mortality during pregnancy has also increased to 117 per 100,000 births.  Despite intensive efforts, the support provided by mass organizations and international agencies scarcely meets the need for essential services to mothers.
The report states that on the issue of marriage (article 16), Iraq expressed a reservation with this article on the basis of the countervailing rights that are enjoined in Islamic law for the husband and wife to establish a just balance between them.  Islamic law is the primary source of personal-status law and constitutes the preemptory norm in this field.  As is well known, Islamic law allows a man to marry more than one wife.  Checks have been established to regulate this right and marriage to more than one wife is forbidden unless the permission of a judge is given on the basis of the husband's financial ability to support the wife.
The report also includes comments on policy measures (article 2), special measures (article 4), prostitution (article 6), representation (article 8), nationality (article 9), economic and social benefits (article 13), and rural women (article 14).

Introduction of Reports

MONA KAMMAS, University Professor, Ministry of Higher Education of Iraq, introduced Iraq’s second and third periodic reports to the Committee.  Proceeding from its commitment to the Convention and other international human rights conventions, Iraq presented its periodical reports and reaffirmed the serious desire for constructive dialogue with the neutral experts of the human rights treaty bodies, she said.  Those experts had both the necessary integrity and objectivity in monitoring the application by States of international human rights conventions.  As she had reviewed the concluding observations of the treaty bodies that considered the reports of Iraq, it was noteworthy to say that those committees, by virtue of their neutrality, had analysed and defined the factors that negatively affected Iraq’s application of the international conventions. 

Her delegation found it relevant to review certain information that was germane to the two periodical reports, foremost of which was the demographic situation of the people or Iraq and the percentage of women in it, she said.  On 16 October 1997, a general census took place in Iraq.  That census took place every 10 years.  According to that census, the population was 22,170,983 of which 49.7 per cent were male and 50.3 per cent female.  Population growth in the period between 1987 to 1997 was 3 per cent.  The last decade had witnessed developments in the concepts on human rights for women, among which was the Beijing Platform for Action, which consecrated women’s human rights.  Iraqi women had been in keeping with those developments.

She said that the Government of Iraq had held an international seminar in Baghdad from 20 to 22 April 1994 in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, including the General Alliance of Iraqi Women.  The theme of the seminar was women’s human rights and ways to confront the challenges facing them.  That seminar culminated in a declaration, entitled the “Baghdad Declaration on Women’s Human Rights”.  It dealt with the forward-looking dimensions for integrating women’s human rights among the general perspective of human rights.

As a follow-up on the part of the Iraqi Government to implement the Platform for Action adopted at Beijing, a national strategy was established to promote the situation of Iraqi women regarding the Platform, she said.  The Government also reinforced the institutional mechanisms to follow up on the implementation of a national strategy.  That was reflected in the Supreme National Committee for the Promotion of Women headed by the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs.  That committee included high-level representatives.  Branches of that Supreme National Committee were developed in all ministries to implement its resolutions. 

She explained that her delegation, before engaging in the presentation of the details of the report and queries, and in order that the dialogue with the Committee would be positive, reaffirmed the fact that the frame of reference of the dialogue was a legal one based on the provisions of the Convention.  She trusted that that frame of reference was the basis adopted by the distinguished members of the Committee, due to their well deserved objectivity and neutrality.  

She added that the delegation of Iraq, proceeding from transparency of information and in implementation of article 18 of the Convention, did not claim idealism in the application of the Convention.  They were confident that the Committee would understand the situation facing Iraq and the need for a constructive dialogue to overcome obstacles.  Iraq maintained that it was important to focus attention on the importance of objective circumstances in implementing the Convention.  That approach would help to define the challenges that obstructed the ideal application of the Convention. 

The enjoyment of a certain State of sovereignty over its territory and air space, in accordance with international law, constituted an essential and objective condition for the application of the Convention, she continued.  The eleventh paragraph of the preamble of the Convention provided for that.  It said that respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity was conducive to the promotion of social development and, as a result, equality between men and women.  Any action that compromised national sovereignty would weaken the objective condition for the application of the Convention.

As was well known, Iraq had been a victim of unceasing violations of its sovereignty, its territory and airspace, she said.  That was reflected in the imposition of no-fly zones in both the North and South of Iraq by the United States and the United Kingdom since 1991.  That had taken place unilaterally and that was legally null and void, because those acts had no legitimate basis and were not related to Security Council resolutions.  Those two States had continued their acts of aggression, reflected by the indiscriminate bombarding of both civilian and military installations in the North and South of Iraq.  The air raids carried out by those countries had led to the death of hundreds of innocent civilians and destroyed important infrastructures.

She said that the absence of the sovereignty of the State in the North because of foreign intervention constituted an unceasing violation of Iraq’s sovereignty over its territory.  The Committee noted that the absence of a central administration of the State in the North impeded the application of the Convention and made it difficult for the Committee to monitor implementation of the Convention.

The right to life constituted the basis of human rights, she said.  It had become an established fact that British and United States forces used depleted uranium weapons against Iraq during the military operations of 1991.  The use of those weapons led to strange diseases, demonstrated by an unnatural increase in leukemia.  It should be noted that 75 per cent of those cases affected children.  There were also cases of lung, stomach and skin cancer.  Some of those diseases affected pregnant women.  There were also increased cases of sterility, stillbirth, premature birth and congenital diseases.  The effect of the use of those depleted uranium weapons would continue to affect both people and the environment for generations to come.

She said that the daily bombardment by the United States and the United Kingdom also had negative implications in the areas of women’s health, having resulted in psychological disorders, anxiety, depression, weight loss, and headache.  Children also suffered from psychological disorders, such as depression, the inability to concentrate, and anxiety over the loss of friends and family members as a result of the continuous bombardments of houses in the area.

She said implementation of the Convention was based on three interrelated elements:  the political will of the State; the availability of resources to effect economic, social and cultural rights; and international cooperation in implementing the Convention.  She observed that the political will of the State had been decisive regarding the promotion of human rights for women, including the application of the Convention.  That was demonstrated by Iraq’s accession to the Convention and the formulation of national strategies, as well as the establishment of the institutions necessary for its implementation.  By the same token, the lack of the other two elements -- available resources and international cooperation for the implementation of the Convention –- had affected application of the Convention.

She added that the main interest and focus of attention had been the survival of the citizens, in general, and women and children, in particular.  The State, therefore, had to change the priorities of its programmes and concentrate on the right to survival.  The need to survive had led to changing priorities in the programmes for the promotion of women, which came in second to the right of survival.  However, Iraq’s political will had been reflected in its efforts to apply the provisions of the Convention, as well as the decisions of the Committee.

She said Iraq had depended on the exportation of oil, which constituted 95 per cent of its resources.  The ban on the export of oil, as a result of Security Council resolutions, deprived Iraq of necessary resources and consequently had negative implications on all aspects of life.  The international reports on the effects of the embargo had demonstrated the depth of the consequences of the imposition of international sanctions on fundamental human rights.  The Beijing Platform for Action included a paragraph on the negative implications of economic sanctions for women and children.  Unfortunately, that paragraph was not coupled by an implementation mechanism on the part of United Nations bodies.  The same could be said for the final paragraph of the outcome document of the twenty-second special session of the General Assembly, which limited itself to reaffirming that those measures should be urged.  

She said that the 1999 Annual Report of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) revealed that the percentage of child mortality below five had increased to 131 deaths for each 1,000 births.  Infant mortality had also increased from 47 to 108 for each 1,000 births.

EMAN NAJI AL-AZZAWI, International Law Expert of Iraq, said that before dealing with the details of the report, she thought it important to refer to measures taken by the Iraqi Government, despite the embargo.  They dealt with measures to accelerate the elimination of discrimination against women in accordance with article 4 of the Convention and measures aimed at securing the enjoyment of women’s rights.  One such measure was taken in regard to the contribution of women in decision-making positions.  By nominating women in elections and to the leadership of political parties, the leadership of the Socialist Baath Party –- the largest party in Iraq –- sought to widen the occupation of female leadership positions by including quotas for women and the young.  It also sought to include women’s leadership in the hierarchy of the party.  There had been a marked increase in the number of women in the Party after the 1999 elections. 

She said that another measure included legislation aimed at securing women’s rights in the wedding certificate.  That legislation came about as an effort to avoid the negative consequences of inflation on women receiving alimony.  The leadership of the Revolutionary Council adopted a resolution that said, in the case of divorce, women would receive alimony supported by gold, as agreed to in the marriage contract, both to avoid the inflation and to prevent the increase of divorce.  Measure were also reflected by amendments to the criminal law.  If a person was able to pay alimony, but did not, after one month of non-payment he would receive a one–year sentence.  Also, in criminal investigations there would be no imprisonment for a women until a final decision was made concerning her case.  The above examples confirmed the commitment of Iraq’s Government to eliminating discrimination against women.

She went on to say that women had a right to equality before the law.  Iraq’s report showed the political will to implement equality between women and men in the marriage contract.  That political will existed in Iraq out of the belief that it was import to advance women, as part of a renaissance of Iraqi society as a whole .  Challenges facing the implementation of the Convention included the embargo, the no-fly zones and a serious lack of resources.  Iraq was confident that the Committee would take those conditions into account in its observations.  Iraq believed that the Committee could request States to protect the sovereignty of other States.  She believed that the Committee would do justice to Iraqi women and help them defend themselves. 

Questions and Comments by Experts

At the outset of the Committee’s discussion of the presentation by the Iraqi delegation, the panel of experts expressed their understanding of the seriousness of the current economic, social and political conditions in that country.  One expert, who affirmed her solidarity with the women of Iraq, said that she wished to express her sorrow for the “genocide” that has been committed by the Government of the United States, which had made Iraq a zone for experimentation with new weapons of destruction.  That had resulted in the loss of life, particularly of women and children, and destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure.

Other experts felt, however, that the conditions caused by the embargo were no excuse for failing to implement the provisions of the Convention.  In fact, persistent adverse conditions probably presented the best possible time to reaffirm the human rights of those who were most adversely affected.  Just as Iraq had fortified its political will to withstand the strain of the embargo, it should equally intensify the political will to implement the tenets of international human rights conventions.

While some experts were pleased to see that Iraq’s Constitution had afforded the women of that country advances not matched by other women in the region, there was concern that there was no explicit description of discrimination in the laws of the country.  What was meant by assuring the rights of women “within the limits of law”?  Since, admittedly, Iraq still had a few discriminatory laws in practice, would equality “within the limits of the law” mean that progress towards full implementation of the Convention would be hindered in some cases and not others? 

There was great concern for the “blanket” reservations that the Iraqi Government had expressed concerning articles 2 (parts f and g) (discrimination),  9 (nationality), and 16 (equal rights in marriage) of the Convention.  Those articles, it was felt, comprised essential aspects of the rights of women.  The experts hoped that the Government would consider the possibility of eliminating those reservations as soon as possible.  Particularly in the case of article 2, it was important to note that it was not enough to merely insert anti-discriminatory clauses in legislation; a legal basis must be established. 

On the issue of stereotypes within Iraqi culture, an expert noted that while legislation had been introduced that had led to some improvement, experience had shown that legislative measures were not enough to change deep-rooted and cultural ideas in the minds of men and women.  It was understood that change would be particularly difficult considering the present conditions in that country, but the sad fact was that stereotypical laws were often condoned.  Honour killings, forced marriages and cases of female genital mutilation appeared to be on the rise.  The attitude, one expert felt, seemed to be that the social and cultural conduct of, and attitudes towards, women could not be legislated. 

But that was not the case, she said. Cultural norms that negatively affected one sector of society could not be justified as “acceptable past practices”. Cultural practices should not be a justification for the ill-treatment of women. In fact, one of the most reprehensible stereotypes was the indifference of the Government to take any action on the issue.  Under the Convention, governments and States were obligated to take measures in that area.  It was urged that the Government take swift and decisive action on stereotypical attitudes.  

Turing to the issue of education, an expert noted that, while girls accounted for 38 to 39 per cent of the school-age population, the dropout rate among them was on the rise.  Although the report had stated that measures had been taken to broaden educational opportunities and offset the dropout rate, it failed to list any specifics.  What was being done to increase the participation of women in vocational-technical or other specialized areas of education?  That would give women access to better jobs and allow them to participate in the labour force once reconstruction of the country’s economy began to take hold.  Was there any type of work aimed at increasing the participation of girls at mid- and higher-educational levels?  An expert also wondered about the role of the mass media in that effort.

Another expert said that she was very concerned that the Iraqi delegation had said nothing about violence against women or prostitution, which was a consequence of war and civil strife.  It was “disappointing” that the report remained silent on the issue.  She was very worried that Iraq’s difficult environment would likely lead to more women being sexually exploited or even prostituting themselves to help families or feed children. 

Another expert drew attention to the major concern about the health of the women and children of Iraq.  It had been very well documented that the “oil-for-food” programme targeted funds to be used expressly for health and nutrition.  Was there a mechanism within the Government to ensure that those funds were not diverted for other purposes?  That was an important question, since despite having the programme in place, the health situation and infant and maternal mortality rates were still deteriorating.

Response by Iraq

EMAN NAJI AL-AZZAWI said that, while it was important for the Government to withdraw reservations to certain articles of the Convention, it was also important to consider the current social and economic climate in Iraq.  It was obvious that there should be change, but because of the importance of the reasons for those reservations, for the time being, they could not be withdrawn.  It was important to note, however, that legislation and de facto practices had been introduced which reflected her country’s commitment to the Convention overall and to achieving, in due time, the full implementation of the articles on which there were reservations.

Turning to the issue of unemployment, she said that there had been an increase among men, as well as women.  The 10-year embargo was not a short period.  There were, however, some satisfactory indicators.  Some sectors of the civil service and Government employed more women than men.

She went on to say that the embargo had made it difficult to document all the advances her country had made towards implementation of the Convention.  The most eloquent evidence of that was the delay in sending the report currently under consideration.  Her delegation had encountered great difficulties in its preparation.  It had taken eight days to get to the meeting and she had encountered many “unimaginable complications and obstacles” trying to obtain visas and sufficient funding.  Had it not been for the political will of the Iraqi Government and other members of her delegation, efforts to attend the conference would have been defeated.

She felt it was important to point out to the Committee that, while she had made no specific references to the issue of violence against women, that issue, as well as prostitution, was covered in detail in the annex to the current report.  It was also important to note, however, that the harshest violence against women was the embargo enforced by the United States.  “There was no domestic violence as harsh as the international violence against women caused by the embargo”, she said.

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