Iraq's parliament Monday (April 9th) established the first independent human rights commission in the country, also approving the selection of its 11 members and three substitutes.
Voting on commission members and the establishment of the commission was the result of intense and exhaustive efforts made by Iraq's parliamentary committee on human rights over the course of the year, said Salim al-Jubury, the chairman of the committee.
"During that period and through the committee [meeting held to select] the commission's council, which includes members of parliament, legal experts and civil activists, the committee screened and checked the resumes of 3,085 individuals who had submitted applications to become commission members, and the final choice was made to select 14 candidates," he told Mawtani.
"The selected candidates come from different social backgrounds, they have long experience in the field of human rights and are well known for their integrity, which encouraged the 181 parliament members attending [Monday's] session to give them a clear majority vote," he said.
The law governing the new commission, the Independent High Commission for Human Rights, was approved by Iraq's parliament in 2008. It stipulates that the council of commissioners be composed of 11 full members and three reserve members. According to the law, women should make up no less than one third the number of council members. Minorities must represented by at least one full member and one reserve member.
The law also limits the period of membership in the council to four years and states that the commission must be an administratively and financially independent body that enjoys wide powers of observation, follow-up and investigation.
Among the commission's powers is the right to receive complaints from individuals, groups and civil society institutions on human rights violations, the right to investigate these complaints, and the right to file suits and refer them to the prosecutor general.
It also has the power to visit prisons and correctional to meet with convicts and detainees to investigate any evidence of human rights violations and to inform the authorities to take legal measures if evidence is found.
"The commission will assume numerous tasks, such as preparing studies and research, submitting recommendations and expressing opinions and proposals on issues related to reinforcing and developing the principle of human rights," Ali Shubbar of parliament's human rights committee told Mawtani.
"Also among its responsibilities is the promotion of a culture of human rights by introducing this culture into learning and educational curricula, and organising conferences, seminars, artistic and social activities, and media programmes, as well as submitting an annual report to parliament containing a general evaluation of the state of human rights in Iraq," he said.
"The commission will strive to co-ordinate and co-operate with the civil society organisations operating in the area of human rights in Iraq and maintain contacts with independent non-governmental international human rights institutions," Shubbar said.
Kamil Ameen, spokesperson for Iraq's Ministry of Human Rights described the establishment of the commission as "a historic accomplishment".
"Establishing the commission does not mean there is no longer a need for the human rights ministry, as there is no article in the law on the commission indicating that the latter would replace the ministry, because although there is an overlap in the work of the two institutions, there are still some cases which strictly fall within our ministry's specialisation," he told Mawtani.
"Some of those cases which are under our jurisdiction are the fate of the Iraqi prisoners and the missing, documentation of the former regime's violations, mass graves and the victims of terrorism, but the most important issue is preparing periodic reports on Iraq's compliance with international human rights conventions," Ameen said.
Human rights activists also welcomed the step.
"I welcome this step of establishing the commission, and feel satisfied that the members of the council of commissioners represent different faiths and ethnicities, that they are independent from any partisan or political affiliation, and they are at a high level of professionalism and competence," activist Hana Edwar told Mawtani.